By Ryan Buck
Warren Harding used a decisive 14-0 run early in the second quarter to pull away from Ursuline on Friday night. Opening night for both teams saw the Raiders prevail 71-52 in front of their home crowd.
Harding (1-0) pushed the pace after a back-and-forth first quarter where it clung to a two-point lead.
“I thought they might zone-trap us a little bit and press us,” Harding coach Andy Vlajkovich said. “I just told our guys that you’ve got to beat the zone inside first, then outside second. Our kids really bought into that.”
Harding forced the Irish (0-1) into turnovers and shots under heavy pressure, then deftly transitioned up the floor.
“Because we’re not very big and we’re not a ‘grind-it-out’ team, we’re going to hit our rhythm at some point. We’re a pressure-oriented team,” Vlajkovich said.
“You’ve got to wait for that run to hit.”
The Raiders shot better than 60 percent from the field in the first half, including four 3-pointers.
“I just thought our guys did a really good job of being patient, but also being aggressive,” said Vlajkovich, who was making his debut as Harding’s coach. “I just liked the rhythm we played with tonight.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Greg Jackson and Tommy Perry capped off the second-quarter surge to push the lead to 33-15.
Ursuline coach Keith Gunther was disappointed to see a tight ball game slip away.
“We came out of the gates great,” Gunther said. “Then I thought our intensity defensively was just absolutely horrible. We didn’t jump to the ball, didn’t box out and didn’t get back in transition. They got some easy buckets. A lot of that was caused by how they picked it up defensively.”
Harding senior guard Mik’quan Dorsey led the way with 21 points. After two straight Ryan Strollo buckets in the final minute of the first half, Dorsey drove the lane for a soaring layup as time expired in the second quarter.
“We thought Dorsey was just a man out there,” Gunther said. “His size, his presence, his attitude made a world of difference in how they compete against us.
“To be honest, I think he kind of intimidated some of our guys.”
Osha Jackson held Strollo, Ursuline’s leading returning scorer, to six first-half points and made the versatile senior battle for every shot.
“I thought Osha did a great job of not letting Ryan get his shots and not letting him get the ball,” Gunther said.