TROY, MO. • Defense could be a calling card for the Cardinal Ritter boys basketball team this season.
“I always pride myself on defense,” Lions coach Randy Reed said. “We’re very athletic and very quick and we’ve got good, experienced guards. So, I think we can be a very good defensive team this season.”
Ritter showed enough of that defensive prowess Friday, holding down a good-shooting Troy Buchanan team to come away with a 55-39 win in the championship of the 47th annual Troy Invitational.
“We played really good defensively in spurts,” Reed said. “We changed the defense a little bit and kept them off-balance a little bit.”
Lions guard Jared Phillips, one of just three seniors on the team, felt his team can do even better on the defensive side of the ball than what it showed in holding its three tournament opponents to an average of 48.7 points per game.
“Honestly, we’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Phillips said. “It was pretty decent for the first tournament, but we’ve got to make it happen. It’s just a few in-practice adjustments, staying focused.”
Said junior guard Malek Davis, “We’ve got to pick up our intensity and effort at all times. We turn it on and off and we can’t do that if we want to win the big games.”
Davis led the way offensively with a game-high 19 points for Ritter (5-1), the tournament’s top seed and the No. 7 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com small-schools rankings.
“We spread it around pretty good, but my man right here (Davis) was pretty hot tonight, so we let him go get his buckets,” Phillips said.
“They told me keep shooting, so I just kept shooting,” Davis chimed in.
Phillips and freshman forward Mario Fleming added 10 points each for the Lions, who have won five straight since a season-opening loss to Peoria Manual.
“We want good balance. We don’t want to have to depend on one person,” Reed said. “We want to move the ball, be unselfish and play good team basketball.”
Playing good team basketball is exactly what Troy coach Dan Moore saw from his team’s opponent.
“It’s always a great learning experience to play against a team like Cardinal Ritter,” he said. “They’ve got a good ball team, there’s no doubt. They get up in you and they play basketball the right way.”
Junior forward Jim King nearly matched his season output through three games (17 points) with a team-high 14 points on Friday to lead the Trojans (2-2). Senior forward Andrew Nett scored 11 points and senior guard Todd Myers, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Francis Howell in the semifinals, added 10 points. But, only one other Trojan managed to dent the scoreboard.
“We’ve got some new pieces this year,” Moore said. “It’s early and they’re still trying to get their feet wet at this level of basketball.”
The game was originally slated for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff, but didn’t get going until 9:40. The seventh-place game went to overtime and featured 47 total fouls and 55 total free throw attempts. The fifth-place game bested that with 55 fouls and 62 free throw attempts. The third-place game tried to keep pace with 41 fouls and 41 free throw attempts.
But, the final was a clean affair. The teams were whistled for just 16 total fouls in the game and had just eight free throw attempts between them. Thus, the game itself took less total time (68 minutes) than the delayed tipoff (70 minutes).
It took nearly three minutes of game time for either team to score before Ritter knocked down three straight shots to take a 6-0 lead.
“I thought we came out playing on our heels and missed quite a few right around the rim,” Moore said. “It took a while (four minutes) to get our first basket and we just never really recovered from that.”
Leading 14-8 after one quarter, the Lions started the second quarter the same way with another 6-0 spurt to keep the largely pro-Trojan crowd mostly silent.
“It was really important for us to stay ahead of this crowd,” Reed said. “If they got in it, the momentum could swing. So, I was happy we always had the crowd under control and we always had control of the game.”
Down 28-17 at halftime, Troy could only nudge the deficit into single digits on two separate occasions early in the third quarter. Otherwise, it was all Ritter.
“I thought we controlled the tempo the whole game. We never did give them a big 8-0 run or 10-0 run,” Reed said. “So, I guess I gotta be happy this early in the season.”