SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Even at the place Bob Hurley’s legacy calls home, the long-time St. Anthony coach was forced to sweat a bit more than usual when his team was nearly knocked off one mile away from the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Friars have spent the better part of Hurley’s three-plus decades at the Jersey City school preaching and executing suffocating defensive schemes, making even the most high-octane offenses frustrated and empty handed.
Somehow, though, Tift County (Ga.) found enough holes down low to drop in easy layups and hit enough long-range jumpers to keep things close. That is, until Hurley’s lock-down formula kicked into another gear.
Josh Brown scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds, handed out five assists and registered three steals as St. Anthony clamped down when it mattered most, escaping with a 60-54 victory over Tift at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on Monday morning.
Tim Coleman contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, while Oregon State-bound Hallice Cooke chipped in 11 for the Friars, who improved to 13-0 this campaign and ballooned its winning streak to 78 games.
“We have such a good coaching staff. They scouted the other team,” said Brown, a Temple commit. “We picked up their tendencies and without it, I don’t know if we would have won.”
Aside from St. Benedict’s Prep and Huntington Prep (W.V.) each coming within one point of knocking off St. Anthony last season, this was the closest Hurley had come to tasting defeat in over two years. So where to now?
St. Anthony plays in the SNY Invitational next weekend at CCNY, facing Boys & Girls of Brooklyn on Friday, then the winner of Long Island Lutheran vs. Cardinal Hayes (Bronx) on Saturday. The Friars take on Newark Tech Jan. 28, undefeated East Brunswick Jan. 29 and undefeated St. Benedict's Prep, No. 12 in USA Today, Feb. 1 at the Newark National Invitational at the Prudential Center.
This contest served as a nice warm up for those tests, especially in a high-stress environment on a national stage.
“Every game is a test for us,” Brown said. “We don’t look ahead. We just look at the opponent on the floor. But this will help us deal with adversity and being more aggressive.”
The Friars trailed by two entering the fourth, and Kansas-bound Brannen Greene drilled a 3-pointer to increase Tift’s lead to 49-44 in the frame’s opening seconds. But later on, Coleman converted a layup and Kody Jenkins hit a three from the far corner with 1:29 to go, handing St. Anthony the lead for good, 56-54.
Tift guard Tadric Johnson, who controlled the pace of the contest by scoring 13 points and dishing out nine assists, committed his only two turnovers in the waning minutes. Tadric’s gaffes and a quiet stretch from Donell Tuff (17 points) served as a testament to the Friars’ ability to take advantage of crucial miscues.
“Defense is our cornerstone,” Brown said. “It’s who we are. We create turnovers and get easy baskets. They were really athletic and really scrappy, but we didn’t put our heads down. We came out with the ‘W.’”
St. Anthony got off to a fast start and appeared en route to a blowout, using Coleman’s active prowess around the rim to create an early lead. Jenkins flushed a 3-pointer with 2:30 to go in the session to hand the Friars a 15-6 cushion, but a long ball and two fast-break dunks kept Tift within striking distance.
After leading by one entering the second, St. Anthony continued to feel the pressure from the Blue Devils and maintained a slim, 30-26 advantage at halftime.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter