By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
ATLANTIC CITY — St. Augustine Prep starting point guard Kevin Foreman suffered a stress fracture in his foot last summer, and eventually the injury was going to catch up with him. It did this week, and the Hermits had to come up with a new game plan on the fly against Atlantic City during opening night of the 2020 Battle by the Bay showcase.
Apparently it took the Hermits a little time to get used to a new lineup, as they managed just eight points in the first quarter Friday night. But Prep got things rolling in the second half, took a 32-31 lead early in the third quarter, and outscored the Vikings 22-16 in the fourth to pull away for a 61-49 victory.
With the win, St. Augustine Prep improved to 14-3 overall and, more importantly, 8-0 in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference, taking a one-game lead over Atlantic City (13-4, 7-1). The Hermits won their fourth straight game while snapping the Vikings’ 12-game winning streak.
In-game adjustment: The Hermits were struggling offensively throughout the first half, as Atlantic City took a 25-21 lead into the break when Tariq Chapman nailed a 3-pointer at the second-quarter buzzer. At halftime, Hermits assistant coach Tom Attanasi put in an offensive set that freed up sophomore Elmarko Jackson — who played the point guard role for much of the first half in Foreman’s absence — out on the wing to create off the dribble. A byproduct of this move was junior forward Keith Palek finding some open shooting room in the corners. That led to an 18-8 third-quarter run that put the Hermits in control with a 39-33 lead heading into the final frame.
“There were couple things. No. 1, we didn’t have much practice time without our point guard and it took us some time with that. No. 2, Tommy A. put a little set in to help free up Marko up top, a pick-and-roll with a kick to (Palek) in the corner and we hit a couple threes out of it. We were all of a sudden scoring, and I think that ignited us, that set we put in during the third quarter,” Prep head coach Paul Rodio said. “(Elmarko) did a great job, I know he turned it over a few times, but he really controlled the game for us in the second half, and that set really helped us a lot.”
Jackson finished 6-of-11 from the floor and scored 16 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Like coach said, the set that Coach A. put us in really helped open up the floor. We were able to kick it out to Keith for a bunch of shots, and John Horner, it just opened the floor up so we could create offense,” Jackson said. “When we went on our little run in the third, it showed me I had to really get in there to create offense for Keith, everybody, our bigs — it wasn’t just me, everybody contributed. When I missed shots, or anybody missed shots, John Horner followed with some great rebounds that kept the ball alive and got us second-chance points.”
“Coach A. put us in a great set, Marko was able to create in the lane and find me a couple of times and I was open,” added Palek, who finished with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. “Really it was all the passing and spacing that got me open. My teammates and coaches are always telling me to shoot the ball, they are always giving me confidence, so I feel free to shoot the ball.”
Running with an opportunity: Without the services of Foreman, somebody had to step up for the Hermits, and it was sophomore guard Kenny Selby, who has spent much of the year on the junior varsity team. He got some minutes in the second quarter, then began to take over the point guard role in the third, which allowed Jackson to move back to his natural position of shooting guard. Selby finished with seven points, but more importantly had just two turnovers in nearly 11 minutes of action.
“When Marko is on the wing he’s almost unguardable,” Palek said. “There aren’t many people who can guard him on the wing, so Kenny really helped us out to be able to get us in our offense, and Marko made plays.”
Turning point: Midway through the third quarter, St. Augustine Prep held just a 34-33 lead, but then Palek was fouled while taking a 3-pointer. He nailed all three of his free throws to push the lead to 37-34, and Atlantic City never got within four points again.
Matt Delaney, who finished with a game-high 19 points and also added 11 rebounds, scored down low to start the fourth quarter and give Prep a 41-33 lead, and a few minutes later Selby nailed a three to push the lead to 45-36. Jackson added a dunk off a drive in the paint to make it 50-36 late in the third quarter, and the Vikings never recovered.
Numbers game: A look at the final stats shows where the Hermits were able to out-play the Vikings, and it was mainly in shooting percentage and rebounding. Prep shot 55 percent from the field, 57 percent from long range and hit 17-of-22 free throws. By contrast, Atlantic City struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just 2-of-15 shots, and got to the line just 12 times. The Hermits turned the ball over 25 times, but were able to shoot well enough to overcome their ball handling woes.
Out for the season?: Foreman, also an outstanding baseball player, likely is done for the year, as coach Rodio said he’ll probably miss at least four weeks, which means guys like Jackson and Selby will have to step up in point guard roles.
“He did it in August. It’s been coming, and (doctors) said he had to get off it for four or five weeks, so he’s going to get into the pool. We didn’t find out until yesterday morning (that he couldn’t play), so we tried to make adjustments on the fly,” Rodio said. “The kid from JV (Selby) did a great job. One of the things I said the other day was, ‘here’s a kid who has played in some big games in football and has no fear whatsoever.’ I thought he did a great job and he was a big factor.”
“Kevin’s a great leader, and defensively he always comes up with a couple steals a game, assists, points — he really does it all for us, so that hurt us a lot,” Jackson added. “But it’s great to see we can bounce back from that through great coaching from coach Rodio, coach A., coach Kyle (Cerana), all our coaches.”
What it means: The victory was a big one for the Hermits, who have now won four straight since an 82-43 blowout loss to Wildwood Catholic on Jan. 22. If Prep can remain in the top spot in the CAL American, it could have a chance at the No. 2 seed in the upcoming CAL Tournament.
“It’s great, it shows us that we’re not a sleeper without our point guard, who is a tremendous player, but it shows us we can hold our own,” Jackson said.
What’s next: Atlantic City hosts Pleasantville on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the final game of the Battle by the Bay. St. Augustine Prep travels to West Deptford on Sunday.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays