Kelly Grant was less than pleased about his team’s defensive performance.
No. 4 Maryknoll welcomed No. 5 St. Francis to Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I boys basketball with a 65-52 win over the Saints in Manoa on Thursday night. The Spartans were efficient offensively with 49-percent field-goal shooting (24-for-49), decent enough at the free-throw line (12-for-19, 63 percent) and persistent on the offensive glass with 11 second chances.
Marcus Tobin’s expanded range wasn’t necessary as he continually scored in the paint, sometimes on elbow jumpers, sometimes on cutbacks. He shot 9-for-14 from the field.
“I told Marcus that he has to have a big game in the post. We saw some footage of Saint Louis playing against St. Francis and we saw that the high post was really big for Saint Louis,” Grant said.
The senior finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Makoto Kamata had 14 points, including a key four-point play in a 10-5 run to start the final quarter. Niko Robben was a bowling ball through the paint and scored 13 points, while Kalai Akaka added 11 points in a strong all-around game. The tenacity and rebounding ability of all five starters in Maryknoll’s lineup is rare.
“Coach emphasized on the two brothers. We knew they would show up tonight,” Robben said of Kameron and Kordel Ng. “They’re both really crafty and skilled, so we rely on our teammates to help us.”
“We were trying to deny as much as possible,” Akaka added. “Just be in the right spots for our teammates to help so that we get stops as a team.”
The Spartans used a sticky 2-3 zone for a short time the first half, but mostly played man defense against St. Francis’ sharpshooting crew. Maryknoll limited Kameron Ng to 3-for-11 shooting and seven points before the senior re-injured his ankle with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter. Brother Kordel Ng scored 28 points, including eight in the final quarter. It was tough sledding, though, even for the high-flying lefty. He finished the game 10-for-27 from the field against Maryknoll’s tall, long and bruising defenders.
At the time Kameron Ng hurt his ankle — it was in the right corner as he dribbled and passed the ball to a teammate — Maryknoll’s lead was 42-36.
“We’ve got to play possession basketball, but we rushed the next three shots and it was a six-point swing. (Maryknoll) got three easy layups,” Saints coach Ron Durant said. “Kordel was emotion when his brother went down.”
That injury was pivotal, Grant said.
“We shifted what we did with Kameron to Kordel, and he still scored 28 points. It’s a little difficult. The court was a little slippery today. We’ve got to bring our slip-knot. Even Kameron was slipping on the floor,” Grant said. “I just hope he’s OK. That sucks if he can’t play the rest of the season.”
It wasn’t just missing shots, though. Yes, St. Francis was 5-for-18 from the field in the final quarter, including 4-for-11 from the arc as Titus Liu sank two of his game-high four treys. The Saints couldn’t quite put a lid on Maryknoll’s offense. The Spartans were patient with their high-low attack against the 2-3 zone. After St. Francis switched to man in the second half, the Spartans were aggressive and consistent going to the basket, shooting 14-for-24 — more than 58 percent from the field — with just two turnovers.
Maryknoll’s zone offense is a step up now compared to recent seasons, and the height plus length of its wings who can post up is hard to counter.
“We’ve been working on our zone offense. That game (loss) against Damien (on Dec. 20), they played zone and they basically controlled the game the whole time,” Akaka said.
Coach Grant and his staff have invested more time into zone offense by necessity.
“This year, knowing that St. Francis plays zone defense, Mid-Pac has a history of playing zone defense and now Kamehameha plays some zone, I played maybe 25 percent of my (practice) time on zone stuff (in the past). This year, I’m spending over 50 percent. We want to make sure we know how to attack the paint, know how to move the ball. So the guys are prepared. They’ve just got to hit shots.”
One of the nifty byproducts of practicing more zone offense is that Maryknoll’s zone defense is becoming a weapon. They used a 2-3 zone late in the first quarter, and with their first eight players ranging from 6 feet to 6-8, Grant could go into Syracuse mode any time.
“We try to change our stuff up so the opposing team doesn’t get comfortable with what they’re running,” he said. “The plan was to use (zone) 50 percent today. I played the seniors and Niko way too much in preseason. I’ve got to get them some rest. The goal was to get the starters 24 minutes (each) and everyone else extra minutes. They’d been playing 28, 29 minutes a game.”
Hmm… 6-8, 6-6, 6-5, 6-3, 6-2 in a matchup zone? Instead of Syracuse’s Orange, this would be, yes, Maroon 5.
The Spartans’ string of four road games to start ILH season resumes on Saturday at No. 2 ‘Iolani. St. Francis will host No. 6 Saint Louis. The last time the Saints and Crusaders played was during the Walter Wong Invitational in a game that Kameron Ng did not play in due to injury. Saint Louis won in overtime, 64-60.