The Cam Joyce era began with a loss on Saturday in Columbus, but it was not for a lack of effort on the Wildcats’ part.
The Saint Ignatius varsity basketball squad dropped its first contest of the season in the Nike All-Ohio Showcase at Gahanna Lincoln High School on Saturday evening, 82-76.
The Basketball Cats poured in plenty of energy against Thomas Worthington. But the Cardinals created a buffer in the third quarter and hit free throws in the fourth to stave off a Herculean comeback effort by the Wildcats. At one point, the Wildcats trailed by 20 in the third, but narrowed the deficit to just two possessions late.
“It was great. I enjoyed it. I was excited, especially for the guys,” Joyce said. “We’ve been working really hard since the summer. I was excited to go to battle with them. It’s not the result we wanted, but we made a great run, and we kept fighting.”
The first half started slow for the Wildcats. Turnovers and miscommunication hurt the visitors in the opening quarter of the season. Danny Nunez hit a 3-pointer and Henry Raynor knocked down a few bunnies, but the Wildcats trailed 16-12 after one.
Foul trouble hindered the Cats early, particularly Chase Toppin. The senior point guard picked up two early fouls, forcing him to sit on the bench for much of the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Cardinals took advantage, draining some big threes and playing physical. Raynor tallied 5 points, and Nunez hit a buzzerbeater trey to end the half, but the Wildcats trailed 34-27 at the break.
The Cats’ offense stagnated early in the third, while the Cards kicked it into high gear. Joyce called timeouts to try to slow down Jalen Sullinger (son of JJ) and Thomas Worthington, but even still, the Cats dug themselves a 20-point hole.
Effort plays helped Saint Ignatius start to chip away later in the quarter. Tommy Spear poked the ball away and put it home on a nice finish, and then added another layup in impressive fashion. Emmett Hanna did it all in the third, pouring in 7 points. But Worthington kept responding, keeping the lead at 59-43 after three.
The first portion of the fourth quarter did not see the deficit diminish. The Wildcats forced Worthington to head to the charity stripe, but the Cardinals kept converting. About halfway through the fourth, the Wildcats trailed, 70-52.
Then things started to come together.
The Wildcats started to make things happen on offense. Chase Toppin distributed and drove to the hoop, hitting shots and forcing fouls. Henry Raynor did work under the basket to get to the line. A new defensive gameplan started to come together, as the Wildcats caused turnovers and got easy points.
“In high school, there’s not a shot clock, so to speed the game up, we had to bring more pressure,” Joyce said. “Before Sullinger started cramping, he started to get tired. I realized that if we picked it up and got the ball out of his hands, and trying to speed them up to get turnovers and quick shots. I told the guys to attack the rim. We took advantage of the mismatches and it was good to see the guys keep fighting.”
Indeed, the Wildcats kept battling. Toppin scored 11 points in the fourth alone in a great show of determination. Raynor showed plenty of fight in scoring 10 points in the fourth. Nunez also scored 7 points in a great quarter for the Cats’ playmakers. But Worthington managed to hit enough free throws to win. On the flipside, the Wildcats missed too many free throws, converting 16-of-31 on the night.
The Cardinals managed to run out the clock late, finishing off an 82-78 win, despite the Wildcats pouring in 33 points in the fourth quarter.
On the game, Raynor led the Cats with 21 points. Toppin (15), Nunez (14), and Hanna (12) all finished in double figures. But 28 points by Sullinger spelled doom for the men of Ohio City.
“We have some things to work on,” Joyce said. “That’s a really good team. I told the guys, ‘If we can slow down Jalen Sullinger, we can beat them. We didn’t slow him down. We have to learn from out mistakes and make free throws. Overall, not too many disappointments. I liked the energy and the effort, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
The Wildcats have a chance to bounce back on Sunday afternoon. Joyce’s men face Richmond Heights at 4:15 pm as part of the Great Lakes Classic hosted by Cleveland Heights High School. The Spartans lost a close one to Taft today in the game before the Wildcats vs. Cardinals showdown.
“We have a tough battle tomorrow with Richmond Heights, a team that’s coming off a loss. They’re going to be ready to fight and get their first win,” Joyce said. “They’re a much different team – longer, more athletic, with more press. I believe our guys will be prepared. Hopefully we get a win tomorrow.”