MANHASSET, NY - After falling in a pair of losses this weekend, St. Mary's was in gut check mode. It was time for the Gaels to step up and show that they were better than what they showed in Westchester at the Slam Dunk Tournament.
St. John the Baptist would be the opponent on Tuesday night, and while the Cougars led for most of the game, it was St. Mary's who showed fight and heart late in the game to pull out a 67-62 win.
The battle of the big men, Jessie Govan of St. Mary's, and Kyle Williams of St. John the Baptist was the matchup people came to see, but early on, neither was very involved offensively. Devonte Green got the Gaels on the board early on with a couple of pull up jumpers in transition, while Tavon Ginyard led the Cougars with 6 first quarter points, while also getting to the rim and creating for others such as Charles Lloyd who scored on a couple jumpers late to give St. John the Baptist a 16-11 lead after one.
Ginyard came back to hit a three from the right wing to open the lead to 8 for the Cougars, but then St. Mary's started to apply some pressure in the backcourt, which created turnovers and allowed the Gaels to go on a 9-0 run to re-take the lead with 2:15 left in the half.
A nice Williams screen would allow Ginyard to score driving in to break up the St. Mary's run, but Stephen Milhaven would score on back to back possessions showing nice footwork in the lane to spin around Williams for a tough bucket with under a minute to play. It looked like the Gaels would go into the half with the lead, but a quick Charles Joyner pull up jumper, followed by a steal and three by Ginyard would see momentum shift back to the Cougars and see them go up 28-26 at the half.
The 3rd quarter saw St. John the Baptist make a clear decision to go to the basket more. Either get Williams posting up in the paint, or drive it to the rim. That decision proved wise as Govan, who only had 1 foul at the half, picked up 3 more fouls in the first 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter rendering him with 4 fouls and on the bench.
With Govan on the bench, Green seemed sparked as he was more aggressive offensively. The Gaels were down 40-31 when Govan went out, but they closed the 3rd on a 9-2 run with the freshman scoring 6 during that run to the close the St. John the Baptist lead to 42-40 after 3.
Govan stayed on the bench to start the 4th and the Cougars jumped out with Williams getting the ball inside off a lob and scoring off the pass from Ginyard, and then Ginyard would steal a wayward pass and get the ball to a cutting Vinny Abbondola to up the St. John the Baptist lead back to 6. The lead would expand to 52-45 with 5:12 left in the game when Govan would come back into the game, and his addition would prove to be a turning point in the game.
He got back in and immediately connected on a short hook over Williams. St. Mary's seemed to wake up at that point, with Green connecting on a left wing three, and Govan once again showing a nice hook in the paint. Joyner tried to keep the Cougars on top with a couple runners in the lane, but Govan was proving to be a force in the paint, and Ginyard had fouled out for St. John the Baptist, leaving them without their one true floor general, and it definitely seemed to rattle the Cougars.
St. Mary's would up the lead to 62-56 off free throws with under a minute to go when Abbondola would hit a three to make it a three point game. The Cougars would apply full court pressure on the ensuing inbounds, and Joyner would steal a pass and hit Abbondola who nailed another three to tie the game at 62 with 42 seconds left.
The Gaels would not call timeout, and after a pass from Green, Govan would find himself open with the ball from 16 feet away, he stepped up and calmly sank the long jumper to give St. Mary's back the lead. Abbondola got trapped off the inbounds near midcourt and he was called for a backcourt violation. Green was fouled with 17 seconds left and he would hit both free throws to make it a two score game. Abbondola would miss a three point attempt on the other end and for all intensive purposes the game was over. Milhaven hit one more free throw late to ice it and give St. Mary's the 67-62 victory.
Govan led all scorers with 21 points, 11 of which came in the decisive 4th quarter for St. Mary's. Green added 19, while Milhaven chipping in with 11 points and 10 rebounds. St. John the Baptist was paced by the 18 points of Vinny Abbondola and Tavon Ginyard in the loss.
It was a great win for St. Mary's after 2 tough losses this past weekend, but Coach Bill Harkins, still didn't feel his team was at its best.
"I honestly don't think we played very well at all for the whole game. I think our execution trying to get the ball inside in the 1st half wasn't good at all. You have to give St. John the Baptist credit for that, but we still have a lot to work on." Harkins said.
After a couple days of practice where Harkins admitted to a lot of yelling, he was happiest about the response his team showed.
"We lost 2 games by 7 points each this weekend, and when we got down 7 in the 4th we could've rolled over and died, but we didn't, we fought back, and that showed me a lot." Harkins added.
St. John the Baptist coach Andre Edwards was on the other end, seeing a 7 point lead late slip away, but when Ginyard fouled out, he admitted he saw his team change.
"When Tavon picked up his 5th foul we were pretty much done. I didn't think we were done, but they played like they were done." Edwards said.
In the end though it all boiled down to a 16 footer from Govan, a shot he doesn't get to take often, but one the sophomore admitted he has been waiting for.
"I practice that shot every day in practice in case they need me to knock it down in a game and it worked out tonight." Govan said with a smile.
Truly a great game between two of Long Island's best, both of which will certainly continue to be heard from as the season progresses.