The St. Anthony defense is almost always present and accounted for, it just had little extra bite to it on this evening.
Senior veterans Kyle Anderson and Jerome Frink are typically sources of smart, productive play, and both followed their scripts as usual, too.
What was a little out of the ordinary was the decision making of guards Hallice Cooke and Tariq Carey early in this game against crosstown rival St. Peter's Prep. They have been in the habit of hunkering down on D like everyone else and handling the ball efficiently, but then passing up shot opportunities for what they often consider better chances for Anderson, Frink and Josh Brown.
This time, the guards finally followed the advice of head coach Bob Hurley to shoot more frequently and helped the Friars to a sizable halftime lead en route to a 61-21 romp over a solid St. Peter's team Saturday night at the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory.
"The kids are getting more comfortable in something they should get more comfortable with," Hurley said. "Coaches every day are telling them to shoot the ball. That's a comfort level a lot of us would like to have had told to us. Shoot the ball.
"Hallice did today, took more shots than he's been taking," Hurley said, "and I thought Tariq was really effective."
Cooke, a 6-3 junior, netted 10 of his 12 points in the first half and Carey, a 6-2 senior, hit for six of his nine (all 3-pointers) as St. Anthony (11-0) built a 29-14 lead. The Friars, No. 1 in the MSG Varsity Top 15 and No. 4 nationally in USA Today, stretched their state-high winning streak to 44 games as they prepare for a game Monday against a respected Miller Grove (Ga.) squad at the Spalding Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, Mass.
St. Peter's (7-3) entered with a four-game winning streak and a No. 15 ranking based upon its 52-48 upset of then-No. 15 Don Bosco Prep a week ago at Kean University.
But the Marauders' offense was immediately cut down at the knees by St. Anthony's pressure, it was overpowered on the boards and also found out early that its zone defense was a bit too inviting for Cooke and Carey.
Cooke buried two 3-pointers and Carey had one in the opening quarter to push the Friars to a 17-6 lead. Cooke hit two free throws and a layup off a feed by Jimmy Hall early in the second and Carey forged a 15-point cushion with a trey in the last second of the half.
If not for their shooting, St. Peter's may have gone into the second half with a smaller deficit and a greater sense of confidence. Hall, Frink and Brown had all experienced early foul trouble, which meant extended play for reserves Kody Jenkins and Tim Coleman and different roles for Cooke and Carey.
"A good game for us," Hurley said. "Three guys out of there in the first half with some foul trouble, but then we kind of grind it in the second half and everybody's back in, fresh, ready to go. They had a chance to sit and observe and we were better at things in the second half than we were in the second quarter."
Hall, Brown, Anderson and Cooke scored in succession to bump St. Anthony's lead to 37-14 just 2:13 into the second half. Seven players scored in that period as the Friars' carried a 49-19 advantage into the fourth quarter.
"This is good for our psyche, good for our spirits, good for the fact that we played a lot of kids today," Hurley said. "It makes us that much more effective. When we hit practice (Sunday) morning at 9 o'clock, we’re not correcting any mistakes. We’re kind of going in, doing scouting report, getting our work done."
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS