Central stings Malvern

STEUBENVILLE – Early in the third quarter Steubenville Catholic Central found itself trailing Malvern 38-18 Saturday at Mickey Barber Gymnasium. The Crusaders then went on a 24-0 run and outscored the visitors 17-11 in the fourth quarter to claim the 62-56 come-from-behind victory.

“This game was our biggest test of where we need to be going into the tournament,” said Central head coach Sean Tucker. “Malvern is a tournament caliber team. They are a great program. They do a lot of great things. When you play a team and program like that it tells you were you’re at and where you need to be. We played them toe to toe and our kids stepped up. Anybody could have thrown in the towel and given up, but we go on a 24-0 run and that’s what we need to do. At least 15 of those points were from our defense forcing turnovers.

“Our greatest offense is our defense. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys because, with where we are right now, if the tournament started I’d be real comfortable playing a tournament game.”

After a the teams were tied at 11 after eight minutes the Crusaders went cold from the field and the Hornets 17-5 advantage put them up 28-16 at intermission.

“We didn’t shoot well at all in the first half,” said Tucker. “We had open looks, and sometimes your shot is not on. It’s our job as coaches to keep the kids positive. We didn’t adjust much defensively at halftime. We just wanted us to box out better. In the first half we had good looks, we had the right kids shooting the ball, and our shots didn’t fall. It’s kind of odd when those kinds of shots don’t fall at home, but that happens sometimes.

“We didn’t keep our heads down, we kept after it, and we wanted to come out and play in the second half for 16 minutes.”

Things looked to be going Malvern’s way again to start the third quarter as a 10-2 run put the Hornets up 38-18, but then the Crusaders, led by the hot hand of Michael Barber began quickly erasing the 20-point lead.

“With this group of kids we need one guy to start getting hot, and then everyone else will start getting confidence,” said Tucker. “When you get open looks and see this guy miss, and this guy miss, and this guy miss you start getting into panic mode. As coaches you start to go into panic mode too because you need someone to step up. Michael Barber did just that in the third quarter. He started stepping up, started hitting shots. We started running blast plays and moving him out of the point guard spot and putting him at shooting guard having him come off and hit his shots.

“One thing we did in the first half was we weren’t set and ready to shoot. In the second half we came up and hit some shots. We were ready to shoot the ball. We did a phenomenal job doing that in the second half. One through six did a great job shooting the ball.”

Barber scored 12 of his 16 points during the run knocking down a trip of threes, including a four-point play, and put home a layup to score half of the 24-point run. The Crusaders took a four-point lead during the run, and when the dust of the third quarter settled the game was tied at 45.

Mike Manfresca and clutch foul shooting were the fourth quarter difference. Manfresca, who tied Barber for team-high honors with 16 points, scored eight in the frame with a pair of three-pointers. The Crusaders, who shot 11-for-15 from the line for the game, were 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter to ice the game.

“Manny, who is one of those lockdown defender type kids, and sometimes he doesn’t give us a lot of points, but I explained to him if he takes a kid that scored 18 points a game and he holds them to six points you’ve given us all those points,” said Tucker. “Manny understands that and he loves it. Today in practice we were shooting around and he was shooting fine. I said to Manny at halftime, ‘I need you to shoot the ball. Have confidence, have your feet set, and shoot the ball’.

“He hits a shot, starts feeling it, and when these kids start feeling it they fire away. They all did a fabulous job.”

Central had four players hit double-digits with Matt Martello and Ryan Fletcher adding 11 and 10 points respectively to join Barber and Manfresca.