By Joe Catullo Jr.
Originally scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday night’s contest between Ursuline and Champion was delayed due to a leaking roof.
Ursuline coach Keith Gunter was worried, because his Irish were focused before the game.
“One of the kids from Champion said if they win, then they wouldn’t have school tomorrow, which was good for us,” Gunther said. “It got our kids really focused, but then we had the 25- or 30-minute break. I could see our kids were losing focus. It was kind of like the Super Bowl. I was really worried.”
But the Irish jumped to a hot start and finished with that mentality during the 72-37 victory. Gunter said Champion’s 22 turnovers were the key.
“We felt like our pressure and our athleticism was causing them problems, and I think for the most part that worked for us,” he said.
Ursuline (11-11) used a strong first half during the rout. The Irish missed 20 shots, but 12 offensive rebounds prevented the Flashes (3-20) from anything positive. Champion collected just six rebounds and committed 17 turnovers while attempting 11 shots.
“The one thing people don’t realize about defense is defense allows you to get some easy buckets,” Gunther said. “They were trying to slow the game down a little bit.”
The Golden Flashes’ biggest disappointment was the second quarter, when they scored four points and committed 10 turnovers.
“That’s what happens when you’re the 12th seed,” said Champion coach Doug Foster.
The Irish struggled from the 3-point line, hitting four of 11 attempts. Ryan Strollo drained three of the team’s four, finishing with nine points, all in the first quarter.
“That’s why we turned up the tempo a little bit,” Gunther said. “It’s not good for us to play a slow-down type of basketball game. We’re a team that needs to go up and down and get us some easy buckets. I thought we did that.”
Strollo finished third on the team in total points. Desmond McElroy scored 12 and Preston Williams had 11.
Overall, the Irish outrebounded Champion, 36-15. Ursuline even collected two more offensive rebounds than the Golden Flashes had overall.
“That’s been our downfall all year,” Foster said. “I told the kids at the beginning of the year, ‘If we rebound, we’ll win games.’ It was a big hill for us to climb.”
The Irish advance in the Division III tournament and will face Pymatuning Valley on Friday. The Lakers defeated the Cardinal Huskies, 68-61, before Ursuline won. Gunther said his Irish will have to keep the tempo up on Friday like they had on Tuesday.
“I’ve scouted them three times, and they’re a good basketball team,” Gunther said. “We’re going to have to come out and do the same thing on Friday. We’re going to have to be tough defensively, get up in them and try to create the same problems we made tonight.