Ok, so the term ‘dark age’ may be a bit much. But after Bishop Luers was a game away from the state finals in 2017, turning it around into a one-win season and then even last year’s four win campaign was a major letdown.
This program once wasn’t very good. Then they won state titles. So being at the bottom of the SAC wasn’t a place the Knights were ever going to be keen to going back to.
They put those memories to rest on Friday night, beating SAC leading Snider 79-74 and putting themselves in position to win at least a share of the conference themselves pending results of next Friday’s games.
“It has been awesome just watching this group of guys come together the way they have and to battle back and come up with the win tonight,” second year Bishop Luers coach Fonso White said. “We’ve got to make believers out of people and we’re coming, we’re coming.”
And fight is something you can never say Luers lacks. They went down 9-0 to start the game including the first five points of the game going to a hot handed Michael Eley. Snider pushed the lead past 10 multiple times, but couldn’t gain traction in the foul laden game with Dillon Duff and Jayshawn Underwood both picking up two first quarter fouls, as did Bishop Luers’ Demarcus Hudson. Bishop Luers stayed at arms reach, but still down 27-20 after the first quarter.
Then everything just changed.
The Knights came out in the second aggressive and attacking on the hand of junior Naylon Thompson. Thompson saw those ‘dark ages’ as close as anyone; he was part of the one win team during his freshman season. It is silly to say that he, as one of the best scorers in the area, “needed” a breakout big stage game, but he certainly got one on Friday night. Thompson helped will and work the Knights back into the game in the second quarter, tying the game at 28 after spinning around Duff with 5:46 left in the half. Just a minute later, a Thompson turnaround mini jumper gave Bishop Luers a 32-31 lead and they just never relented.
“It is about the togetherness that they have. It was that bond we built over the summer, going 9-1,” White said. “They bought into wanting to be the best for each other.”
Snider went cold at big portions of the middle of the game. In the crucial closing moments of the third quarter, it was Snider mistakes and Bishop Luers pressure that took a close game and gave the Knights the spacing they so desperately wanted for the final frame. After all, Snider has proven so many times that you can’t let them be close late. With 1:10 left in the third and Bishop Luers leading by three points, a travel by Duff was a catalyst in Luers extending their lead to unprecedented totals. Right after the travel, Jalen Causey responded by taking his defender off the dribble for a basket, followed on the next trip with a John Peterson dunk.
Thompson added a spin to the rim and then a putback in the close of the third and open of the fourth to push Bishop Luers’ lead to a game best 11 points. The 65-54 lead came after an 8-0 run.
Snider made a push of their own, but they needed Thompson out of the game to make that happen. The junior fouled out with 3:28 to play amidst heavy Knight foul trouble. But with a six point lead and plenty of force behind it, Thompson was sure his team could close out the monumental conference win.
“I had immense confidence in them. I knew once I came out of the game, they would come and finish it for me. We had the momentum, they knew what to do,” Thompson said. “We go through simulations like that in practice all of the time so I just made sure to be a cheerleader on the bench for them.”
Snider pushed back hard. After Duff took a charge with the Panthers trailing by just four, he scored the next four points on his own. Duff played marvelous basketball in the second half to finish with a game high 28 points. With 1:48 left, Jon Barnes played stellar defense to stop Causey at the rim, getting the ball pushed ahead to Eley, who sent a pass to the rim for a Duff dunk that tied the game at 72. But Snider would never lead.
With 1:39 left, Hudson scored and got fouled to push the lead to 75-72 and Causey would close the game out at the free throw line. They each finished the game with four fouls, doing an outstanding job to stay out of the way with a final foul so they could keep affecting the game on the offensive end. That was a major catalyst in Bishop Luers closing out a Snider team that just hasn’t been easy to close out in 2020.
Bishop Luers now has the chance to claim a share or outright SAC title next Friday with a win at North Side. What happens from there depends on the outcome of Snider’s game against South Side and the rivalry laden Homestead/Carroll game. That is a long way from last season’s four win total and even from the preseason where Outside the Huddle projected them to finish sixth in the SAC; other media outlets predicted the Knights to finish ninth in the conference.
“It feels wonderful,” Thompson said with a wide grin. “It feels great after everyone doubting us to come out here and win some games.”
Thompson led Bishop Luers with 24 points before fouling out while Hudson added 13 and Causey scored 12. Behind Duff’s 28 for Snider, Eley scored 25.
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