Meadville Tribune

December 27, 2013

BOYS BASKETBALL: St. Francis holds off Cardinals

By Pete Chiodo
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — So far this season the Cochranton boys basketball team has held its own against teams from the neighborhood.

It took a big private school from Canada to finally take the Cardinals down as St. Francis Catholic, a team out of St. Catherines, Ontario, notched the Redbirds 58-54 during the opening game of the Sertoma Holiday Basketball Tournament on Friday at the House of Thrills.

“We’re learning,” said Cochranton head coach Scott McCurdy. “The guys know that we could have beat that team. That’s a good team. They’re 15-3. I mean, they’ve played a whole season of basketball and we’re in our seventh game. We wanted to win. But we’ll try to make the best of the loss and make sure we learn from it.”

St. Francis did indeed improve to 15-3 on the year with the victory, benefiting from a busy schedule of games including tournament-heavy couple of months in November and December.

Meanwhile, Cochranton, with its first loss of the season, drops to 6-1.

“That was a good team,” Phoenix head coach Patrick Sullivan said about the Cards. “Really, some solid perimeter shooting from deep. And we had a difficult time stopping them from the perimeter. We just did enough. That could have went either way. We executed a couple plays down the stretch — not that they didn’t. It was a tough game.”

The key factor in the contest was St. Francis’ 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Abu Kigab. He had 21 of the team’s 30 points in the first half and ended up finishing the night with 30 total.

“He’s very tough,” said Sullivan. “Just in grade 10. ... He’s got a lot to learn. But Abu is special. Athletically and from a competitive standpoint he’s a very gifted player.”

Kigab played a major role in keeping the Phoenix’s heads just above water for most of the game.

“He’s probably a D-1 player,” McCurdy said about Kigab. “We varied our matchups on him a little bit and we played him tough. He was going to get his baskets. The goal was to just contain him, to limit them to one shot and done and then turn it right up the court. But we had trouble rebounding.”

The Phoenix led 15-14 after one period, 30-28 at the half, and 45-41 after three quarters.

Cochranton’s only lead came during the early part of the second quarter. The Cards enjoyed a 10-2 run to pull ahead 24-19. But St. Francis answered with 11 straight points (four by Kigab) to retake the lead at 30-24.

St. Francis would never trail again in the game. In fact, the Phoenix looked like they were going to pull away in the third, opening the second half with a 13-3 scoring run to cushion their lead to 43-31.

Rebounds were key during this stretch. Cochranton actually out-rebounded St. Francis 13-9 in the first half. But the Phoenix worked the boards hard in the second half, getting 11 in the third compared to just six for Cochranton. The Phoenix also out-rebounded the Cards 12-9 in the fourth.

“They torched us on the rebounds,” said McCurdy.

According to Sullivan, “(Cochranton) beat us up in the first and second quarter on the boards. They’re tough kids. They fight for position. But we did a better job and stemmed the tide in the second half.”

Cochranton managed to battle back, though. Mixing some clutch outside shooting and some drives to the hoop, the Cards managed to tie it up at 51-51 with 2:38 to play.

Logan Herzberger knocked down a clutch trey from the top of the key to knot the score. He had four triples and led Cochranton with 18 points.

Herzberger was also a standout on defense, limiting Kigab to just nine points in the second half.

“Logan did a great job harassing him,” said McCurdy. “He’s our best on-ball defender. I got a tip from my assistant coaches to switch the line up and it ended up working.”

However, St. Francis’ Jordan Jessome answered Herzberger’s 3 with one of his own to put the Phoenix back in charge at 54-51. That lead would hold.

St. Francis left the door open, missing some foul shots down the stretch. But Cochranton couldn’t cash in at the other end, allowing the Phoenix to escape with the victory.

“We should have attacked the basket a little more aggressively down the stretch,” said McCurdy. “I think we were looking for the 3 a little too soon. And I take ownership of that. The plays we were calling there were designed more for the 3. I think if we would have attacked the basket we could have closed that out.

“But we played tough. We ended up getting some stops. But down the stretch we just couldn’t get a basket. We were hoping to get a basket and a timeout but we just couldn’t get it.”

Note: After Herzberger’s 18, Nick Dickson followed with 14 points, Garrett Adams had eight, Josh Vanderhoof and Nate Wigton scored six each. ... After Kigab’s big 30-spot. Jessome followed with 13 points for St. Francis. He bucketed three 3-pointers. ... Cochranton will take on Meadville today at 6 p.m. in the tournament’s consolation game. St. Francis will face Seneca at 7:30 p.m. in the championship.