If you want tough, hard-nosed basketball, you might want to check out the Saint Louis Crusaders.
The team, which is ranked fifth in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Top 10 poll, is 2-0 in the ILH and is coming off an 11-3 preseason campaign.
The two wins have come against league contenders who also happen to be in the Top 10 — No. 7 Maryknoll and No. 3 ‘Iolani — and both were on the road.
It should also be noted that coach Keith Spencer had not problem calling both wins “ugly.”
So far, ugly is working. Jimmy Nunuha III had 13 points against the Spartans and 14 vs. the Raiders, but after that, so far there is big drop-off in offensive production from the rest of the team.
No matter. What they lack on offense is made up with defense and determination.
The only letdown in the Crusaders’ most recent four halves of basketball came in the second half against Maryknoll. Their defense was not efficient and it prompted Spencer to say afterward that they weren’t aggressive enough.
That same letdown didn’t happen in the second half against ‘Iolani, although the Raiders closed the gap considerably with some all-out hustle to try and match the sweat output of Saint Louis.
Jayce Smalley is one player who epitomizes the rank and file of the Crusaders.
In the 44-42 win over the Spartans, Smalley — who appears to always be going full-tilt — hit two putbacks that went pretty much unnoticed and don’t quite get the same message across as, say, “game-winning basket at the buzzer.”
Without those two hoops, which were not back to back or anything and came during long stretches of no scoring, it’s a loss.
“Jayce is our Mr. Intangible,” Spencer said. “I called him on the phone after the Maryknoll game and told him that what he was doing is what we need him to do and to keep doing it. He is a defensive stopper for us, and he really came through in a crowd with those putbacks, too. He does stuff that doesn’t show up in the newspaper.”
Against ‘Iolani, Smalley leaped high for a rebound and just as he got possession of it, let it go quickly from right to left and it went straight into the basket to beat the third-quarter buzzer by a split second.
That play gave Saint Louis a 25-19 lead in the game that they eventually won 35-31.
Lance Sataraka is another player who epitomizes the tenacity Saint Louis shows on defense, especially the halfcourt, inside-the-paint variety.
The Crusaders’ defense will be tested big-time on Wednesday at home against No. 2 Punahou.