Like a new chain restaurant, shopping plaza or 30-story high rise, the Ursuline boys basketball team is building anticipation.
The land is purchased, a “coming soon” sign is placed, but the finished product is still a few months away.
On Friday at the Lyden Family Court, Irish fans saw a sneak peek (or, soft opening) of a team poised for a potentially deep tournament run.
“We’re a good basketball team,” Ursuline coach Keith Gunther said after his team’s 56-22 win over Canton Central Catholic. “It’s starting to come along and we’re growing game-by-game. I think by March you’ll have to watch out.”
The Irish started 0-6, but have since strung together a three-game winning streak. Senior Khallid Pierce is heading the construction work.
“Coach talks about the people who built big cities long ago,” he said. “They dig deep and build them up. Our losses are those deep pits. We’re going to build up with each win, little by little, and by the time we get to districts we’ll have a skyscraper.”
Ursuline (3-6) out-rebounded the Crusaders, 30-15, and the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Pierce, grabbed a game-high 10 with eight points.
He, too, has been a project of his own.
“He is a man out there,” Gunther said. “He’s rebounding like he’s supposed to and he’s accepted his role. Early on, he couldn’t even make a two-foot shot. Now, he’s our physical, tough presence and a leader. If you don’t play hard — he’s going to get into you.”
A linebacker on the football team, Pierce will be playing on Saturdays in the fall.
“I’m better at football, but my passion is equal in both,” he said. “Coaches worked with me for countless hours in the gym and I’m back in full basketball mode.”
Pressing the entire game, the Irish flustered Central Catholic early and forced nine first quarter turnovers. Ryan Strollo had four steals and Preston Williams had three. Kevin Jackson blocked three shots.
After the first quarter, Ursuline led 19-4. Desmond McElroy extended it to 28-4 after an and-one conversion midway through the second quarter. The Irish lead grew to 28 points at the 5:12 mark of the third and 36 points with under two minutes left in regulation.
The Crusaders (3-5) had 27 turnovers.
“If you defend, you’re always going to give yourself a chance to win,” Gunther said. “I thought, right from the tip, we were aggressive and nasty. They struggled to even move the ball.”
By halftime, Central Catholic had only attempted 12 shots. In the game, they were 0-9 on 3-point attempts. Ursuline shot 43-percent from the field. McElroy led with 14 points, Strollo added nine, Williams had seven and Jackson scored six.
“This was definitely the best we played all year,” Williams said. “We had intensity. Everybody was hype. It felt great to be back home, with a great crowd, and get the win.”