AURORA – No matter the opponent, the game plan for the St. Francis basketball team is usually the same.
The Spartans’ limited size inside promotes ball movement, players running off of screens and finding open shots while playing swarming defense.
St. Francis did just enough of each and added 29 free throws to hold off Marmion 60-51 Friday night in the Suburban Christian Conference opener for both teams.
“We didn’t come out with enough juice in the second half like we did in the first half,” St. Francis senior Matt Bonner said. “In the third quarter, they outscored us by a bunch. We shoot a bunch of free throws in practice and it came down to concentrating at the line in the second half.”
Each of Bonner’s six points came from the line in the second half as St. Francis was 29-36 overall, including 14-18 in the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of all our guys tonight. They weathered the comeback. We knew they would come out of halftime and would be upset,” St. Francis coach Bob Ward said. “We had an eight-point half and sure didn’t have an eight point second half.”
With no player taller than 6-foot-4, the Spartans’ ran shooters Andrew Kimball, Tim Zettinger and Jason Pisarski through multiple screens on offensive sets.
Kimball was bomb’s away in the first half, netting three three’s while Zettinger scored a quick eight points before leaving with an apparent ankle sprain.
Even without Zettinger for much of the second quarter, the Spartans (4-0, 1-1) limited Marmion (1-5, 0-1) to just three shots in the second quarter as the Cadets scored only three points on just one field goal.
Marmion failed to score in the last five minutes of the second quarter as St. Francis’ lead swelled to 27-8.
“We came out with high pressure and were prepared for their hitters offensively,” Kimball said. “We know these guys and know their strenghs and knew what was coming. We emphasized high-intensity and tried to take over on defense.”
Without Zettinger on the floor, Marmion chipped away at the Spartans’ lead with a pair of 5-0 runs at the start of the third quarter.
The game’s turning point came with 1:11 to go in the fourth quarter. After knocking down a pair of free throws to bring the Cadets within 53-48, Marmion’s Matt Smith drew a technical foul.
Kimball and Zach Prociuk, who was fouled by Smith that brought on the technical, knocked down four free throws as the St. Francis lead swelled back to 57-48.
Bonner went 3-of-4 in the last minute to seal the win for St. Francis who are off to a perfect start after winning The Windmill Classic last weekend.
“They were in the bonus with 3:43 to go in the third quarter. As aggressive as we were, they scored 29 points from the free throw line,” Marmion coach Ryan Paradise said. “We were right there. Second half, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. I think we found out a lot about how we’re going to be scoring the basketball from here on out.”
Kimball led St. Francis with 19 points while sophomore Jason Sullivan added 10 while filling in for the injured Zettinger, who was limping after the game.
Marmion with 13 while Smith added 11, seven of which came from the free-throw line.