Watching the Maryknoll Spartans is a lesson in checkbox execution.
Again, No. 2 Maryknoll checked enough of those prime-time, clutch-play boxes to wiggle out a 39-35 win over Saint Louis on Saturday afternoon at Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium. Liko Soares continued his stellar scoring with 15 points, including 5-for-6 at the free-throw line, to spark the Spartans. Maryknoll improved to 6-1 in ILH play (22-2 overall) with another methodical, walking-on-eggs battle for either team.
Spartans coach Kelly Grant wasn’t impressed. His grade for the team was below par.
“D-plus. We missed, down the stretch, four minutes left, you’ve got to make free throws. You’ve got to make layups,” Grant said. “We were 5-for-11 (at the free-throw line), but we were really 5-for-14 because we missed 1-and-1s.”
A lot of that pressure came from the relentless Crusaders.
“They didn’t surprise me. I was surprised when I saw the Punahou-Saint Louis score (72-69 on Jan. 3). At the Moanalua (OIA-ILH Challenge), they didn’t have everybody. I heard some of their football players were going early entry (spring enrollment at college), so I thought (Jayden) de Laura was going that route, too. Dan Hale, he’s a good coach.”
Sage Tolentino added eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks, then sat the final minutes with a left ankle injury. Niko Robben scored all seven of his points in the first half and finished with eight rebounds and four assists. The senior uncharacteristically shot 0-for-4 at the foul line, missing the front side of 1-and-1s in the final quarter.
Noah Furtado stepped up with 3-for-5 shooting from the arc for nine key points. Only four Spartans scored in this matchup.
AJ Bianco shot 3-for-5 from 3-point range and finished with 12 points and five rebounds for Saint Louis. Senior guard Isaac Silva added nine points, six assists and three steals, playing all 32 minutes. The visiting Crusaders shot 7-for-10 at the charity stripe and just 5-for-18 from deep. They continue to show signs of challenging for a state-tournament berth and, down the road, perhaps the ILH title.
“We have to keep putting in the work. That’s what Coach Hale has been emphasizing is just, not peaking right now, but keep building,” Bianco said. “You never want to lose, but it’s encouraging knowing we can play with anyone in the state. Against Kamehameha (Thursday night), we didn’t come out with the game, but were in the game the entire time.”
Saint Louis fell to No. 1 Kamehameha 66-57.
“AJ has been stepping up for out team big,” Silva said. “We’re good. Maryknoll is a tough team. We’ve just got to keep playing through it. We actually go to practice right now after this. We go in there and get that work.”
Bianco, a promising prospect on the gridiron as a 6-foot-3 quarterback, hit a clutch 3 to bring Saint Louis within 39-35. He was fouled on the play by Soares, but missed the ensuing free throw. Shoncin Revuelto kept the ball alive on the rebound, and Bianco had another clear look, but missed in the final seconds.
Saint Louis committed only eight turnovers and pressured Maryknoll into 14. While defending state champion Maryknoll continues to play superb defense and has played at an elite level from day one, Saint Louis is just starting to scratch the surface. Despite a 3-8 overall mark (2-3 ILH), Saint Louis is clearly in the hunt for one of the ILH’s three state berths.
“This is kind of our preseason in the first round, just kind of learning each other and learning where we’re strong, the things we need to work on. We’re going to have breakdowns. That’s OK and it’s acceptable, you just got to learn from them,” Hale said. “Second round is going be like our regular season, and then there’s the (playoff) tournament. We’re trying to catch up. It’s a good group, good senior leadership. Isaac’s been great. Nalu, too.”
Saint Louis played without de Laura, who was busy with Polynesian Bowl practices all week.
“He makes a difference. Leadership,” Grant said.
Even without him, the Crusaders had the powerful Spartans within reach all game long.
“We’re getting there. Maryknoll executes like crazy. You know you’re going to get into one of those games. It was good for us to see what that’s like to execute at that level,” Hale added.
Saint Louis used a diamond fullcourt press early, then continued to exert defensive pressure on makes and off misses by using its depth at guard.
“We made a little run there, and the pressure got us a little bit, but it was a good game,” Hale said.
Saint Louis got 3-pointers from Silva and Bianco to open the game with an 8-5 lead. Maryknoll responded with a 13-1 run, opening the score to 18-9 after a pull-up back shot by Robben.
The Spartans mixed man and 2-3 matchup zone defenses, and Soares went to work with nine points in the second quarter. Maryknoll led 23-15 at intermission.
The Crusaders got within 32-28 with 6:24 remaining after a mid-range jumper by Silva. Maryknoll extended its lead to 39-30 before Saint Louis made a slight push down the stretch.
Maryknoll will continue to battle. Tolentino expects to play when Maryknoll visits ‘Iolani on Wednesday. The 7-foot sophomore would not entertain the possibility of resting the ankle.
“No,” he said. “No, no.”
At Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium
Saint Louis (3-8, 2-3 ILH) 8 7 11 9 — 35
Maryknoll (22-2, 6-1 ILH) 10 13 9 7 — 39
STL: Malu Ing 4, Isaac Silva 9, AJ Bianco 12, Shoncin Revuelto 3, Aiva Arquette 5, Kahaku Marquez 2, Nalu Liftee 0, Kalan Ellis 1.
MS: Justin Yap 0, Reggie Eiland 0, Noah Furtado 9, Parker Grant 0, Niko Robben 7, Liko Soares 15, Sage Tolentino 8.
3-point goals—Saint Louis 5 (Bianco 3, Silva, Revuelto), Maryknoll 4 (Furtado 3, Robben).