"It's All About The Game"
No Day-Day, no Rafus, no problem
Ron Bailey, Publisher
Just one thing, SFA (24-9) was without two pieces - junior point guard Daquan 'Day-Day- Bracey would likely not play due to a sprained ankle, and sophomore forward Andre Rafus was unavailable. How would head coach Nick Myles' crew respond?
They didn't skip a beat, sinking three pointer after three pointer, for the record going 11-14 from beyond the arc, a barrage that left St. Joe's man and zone scheme's eventually decimated. The final score read 80-52 SFA, who progressed to today's MIAA semifinal contest at league leading Mt. Carmel.
Junior guard Khalil Richard had 20 points, while also pulling down five rebounds and going 5-5 from down town. Fellow SFA guard Jordan Goodwin, a freshman, finished with eight points.
Kurk Lee, dishing in the paint.
But it was junior guard junior Kurk Lee that made it all happen, scoring a game high 23 points, leading all assisters with eight, and adding six caroms. Reached afterward, the consistenly slick dribbling and passing Lee indicated he knew his complete game would be on display Tuesday night.
"Before the game I put up extra shots, we had a shoot around I put up more shots" revealed Lee when asked what drove his 3-4 long distance shooting. "And I just felt my rhythm during the game. And I was making them".
Case in point was a second quarter, fast break pull up from three, one in which a foot slip caused the shot to be released off balance. The shot tickled the twine, causin SFA to lead 38-21 with 3:14 in the quarter.
Lee obviously wasn't just a perimeter shooter, constantly getting into the lane and finishing or finding. His steal and layup at the buzzer would put SFA ahead 48-26 at intermission, effectively ending any St. Joe's hope of coming back.
Asked about his performance, Lee simply said "In big games that's what big players do, show up for big games".
Playing without Bracey and Rafus fueled he and the team: "We had to take on a bigger role. We had to take on a bigger scoring role, because Day-Day scores 15 points a game. So we had to pick that up. Our big fellas stepped up. Khalil stepped up. Everybody just played together and hit shots".
Along the way Lee delighted the crowd with his fancy penetration moves, dishes and finishes, seemingly delighting when faced one-one-one with a defender and breaking him down. "That's what I live for, playing basketball like that. That's why I play the game because I love it" said Lee with a smile, when asked about the 1-4 sets when he quarterbacked the team.
Senior forward/center Josh Ayeni (13 points) received some of those dramatic, drives and finds, to which he said "He's going to get me the ball if I'm open. So that works for me", before laughing.
Sophomore forward Darryl Morsell led the Gaels (19-11) with 12 points.
Josh Ayeni, letting a jumper fly.
It wouldn't be fair to expect Lee and the Panthers to shoot like he did Tuesday night, but his team will need it. He's ready for the challenge, as the floor general expressed "I'm going to put up extra shots" and embrace "extra work" in trying to do so.
SFA's tilt at Mt. Carmel tips tonight at 7p EST. The other MIAA semifinal is John Carroll at Calvert Hall, also a 7p EST start.
Josh Ayeni - 6'8", 220 pound senior forward/center, St. Frances - To say Ayeni, a son of Nigeria who came stateside to earn a college scholarship is a warrior would be an understatement, as he's played with a hurt shoulder for greater than a year now.
"My shoulder still hurts, but it is what it is. I'm ready to play and leave it on the court" said Ayeni of his injury, a torn labrum that eventually will need surgery. He continues to play not just for a possible scholarship, but for his teammates, as "I love these guys. I've been with them for three years. They're like a family to me, and I hate to see us lose. So I have to contribute in any way".
That would be primarily finishing around the rim and boarding, though Ayeni can and will pull up from mid-range. Next level he will have to be more consistent from 10-15 feet, rotate more aggressively weak side on defense, polish his back to the basket footwork as well repair that shoulder.
Colleges are not shying away from Ayeni, given "Southern Miss, Cleveland State, Drexel, U Penn and Cornell" have offered, with Mt. St. Mary's showing interest. He's wide open at this point.
Somebody will have keeper in a few years in Ayeni.
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