Jesuit boys basketball clamps down Mountainside, wins Metro test
There is nothing exotic about Jesuit's defensive philosophy.
Pressure the ball, force it to the middle of the floor, help your teammates if they get beat, play on a string, compete with the highest level of intensity in a man-to-man scheme. No zone. No frills. No gizmos.
Those principles, however, put a copious number of trophies, both of the Metro League and state championship variety, in the glass cases outside Knight Center. For all of the fabled scorers and offensive sorcerers to come through Jesuit under head coach Gene Potter over the last 20 plus years, defensively the Crusaders are a cut above.
In a battle of top-five Class 6A teams between Jesuit and Mountainside on Tuesday, the Crusaders held the Mavericks to just one point in the second quarter and a lone point over the final four minutes of the fourth. In the other 20 minutes, Mountainside came to life and looked the part of an elite eight team with 43 points. But those Jesuit-induced, defensive-fused droughts were deadly as the Crusaders clamped in for a 55-45 win at Jesuit High School.
"We felt like that second quarter was a grind and that's how we have to play the whole game every single game, every single quarter," Jesuit junior point guard Roy Bunn said. "I feel like if we do that and stick to the game plan, we can beat anyone."
The Crusaders won't wow you with otherworldly athletes, freakish measurables or highlight makers. Yet they're so disciplined, well-coached and dictatorial on the defensive end that they can contend with teams that might have more individual talent but not the togetherness or the non-stop tickers. Jesuit forced five turnovers on Mountainside's first five trips down the floor in the second quarter in addition to an errant Maverick miss that led to a Crusader hoop. Some of Mountainside's errors were self-inflicted. Some were the direct result of the Crusaders breaking out the clamps and deciding the fifth-ranked team in the 6A power rankings couldn't and wouldn't stay on the same floor as them. Bunn was a beast on the ball and helping in the gaps. James Lang and Liam Ruttledge chased Mountainside sharpshooter Grayson Rowell all over the floor and didn't let him get any good open looks. Matthew Levis crowded Bennett Giebels and forced him into Jesuit's awaiting help side. The Crusaders' pressure and penchant for forcing turnovers didn't let Mountainside star post Andrew Ingalls get going after a fruitful first quarter in which the game was all even at 10-10.
"They're just tough kids, they're competitors who expect to win," Mountainside head coach Dustin Hewitt said of Jesuit. "We played tough, but in the second quarter, we were a little bit soft. Jesuit doesn't make mistakes. And when they do, if they do, you have to capitalize on them because you're not going to get many of them."
Offensively, Jesuit didn't need flash, just fundamental, solid, unselfish basketball to marry with its diabolical defense. Connor Kollas cashed in a second quarter three, then had great drive-and-kick along the left baseline to collapse the Mav defense and bounce a seeing-eye pass to Bunn for an open three to make it 25-11. Levis dove on a loose ball to set up Jesuit's final possession of the quarter and Bunn made it pay off with two free throws that gave Jesuit a 27-11 halftime lead.
"To beat the best team, you have to play the full 32 (minutes)," Hewitt said. "Jesuit plays hard for 32 minutes and I think we played hard for 24. In the second quarter, they completely outhustled us. They got rebounds, made tough shots and that was the difference in the game."
Mountainside kept playing tough in the second half, however. Ingalls scored six straight inside to start the third and later hit a three from the top of the key. The senior post scored 13 of his 20 points in the third as the Mavericks were able to protect the ball, force it inside and run their offense through Ingalls.
"After halftime, I was super proud of our guys responded," Hewitt said. "(Ingalls) competed his butt off and did some damage inside. The team recognized that and that was key in getting him the ball."
Bunn was outstanding in the third quarter, showing off some Kyrie-esque wizardry with the basketball to set up his teammates for open looks underneath the rim and behind the three-point line while still bringing that nasty defense that defines his game. And while Mountainside kicked its offensive into gear, Jesuit still led 45-34 at the end of three.
"When I push the ball, I can see everything faster," Bunn said. "When I slow down, I start thinking too much, so when I get the ball and go, I feel like the floor is open, I can see everything, and the IQ comes in."
Still, even with that nasty second quarter dry spell Mountainside remained in the chase. Dezman Baker turned a steal into a score and later made two free throws. Giebels was able to shake free from the Crusaders' suffocation and drained a pair of big threes, the latter of which brought Mountainside within 50-44 with four minutes left in the fourth. The Mavericks were finally at ease under the rows and rows intimidating state championship banners. Levis fouled out with three minutes and change to go. The Mavericks' defense was causing takeaways and initiating their transition game. The momentum, at last, was shifting in one of the toughest venues to play in the state. The inhibiting, exasperating lid was fully off the rim, at least it seemed. But then Mountainside missed four free throws in a row with the game still at 50-44. A good Maverick look at a three-pointer one possession later was just long. Then, Lang grabbed an offensive board and put the ball home to go up 52-44 with 2:20 to go. Only an Ingalls' free throw with the game out of reach added to Mountainside's final tally. Between the entire second quarter and the second half of the fourth period, the Mavericks scored just two points in 12 crucial minutes. Giebels can go for 30 at the drop of a hat. Rowell can ride waves of scalding outside shooting. Ingalls is probably the most consistent offensive post in Metro. But for a quarter and a half, Jesuit rendered them rather helpless.
"(Jesuit) has won a lot of games and they know how to win," Hewitt said. "We've had a great season but we're still learning how to beat the good teams, the top teams in the state."
With the win, Jesuit moved to 8-0 in Metro and now owns a three-game lead over the Mavericks and Sunset in the league standings with just four games to go in the regular season. The Crusaders are in the catbird's seat when it comes to defending their conference crown. Many believed the Metro would be wide open as ever with four or five teams fighting it out for the title in the final week. But Jesuit is turning out the lights early on this league race. They're the top team in the 6A power rankings and the second-ranked team in the 6A coaches' poll behind Jefferson.
"We knew Mountainside was going to play us hard," Bunn said. "They just came off a big win over Beaverton, so it just feels good to grind it out and continue our undefeated record in Metro. We just have to stay disciplined, remain humble, take it one game at a time."
Bunn had 14 points, 6 assists and five steals for Jesuit. Lang added 16, Liam Ruttledge had 8 and Mike Brittingham added 6. Ingalls had a game-high 20 while Giebels chipped in 11 and Baker added 10. Jesuit hosts Sunset on Friday at 7 p.m. while Mountainside travels to Westview. Even with the loss, the Mavericks (16-4 overall) are seventh in the 6A power rankings with resume-building opportunities against the Wildcats and the Apollos upcoming. Jesuit remains deadlocked at number one in the 6A power rankings.
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