By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
OCEAN CITY — If things continue the way they did in the first week of the season for the St. Augustine Prep basketball program, head coach Paul Rodio is going to need to buy antacids in bulk.
On Saturday night in the marquee game of the Ocean City PBA Tipoff Weekend event at Ocean City High, the Hermits blew a big lead, found themselves down late in the game, then rallied to survive a scare from Egg Harbor Township, winning 54-51 when an EHT 3-pointer at the buzzer hit off the front of the rim. It was the second close call for Prep, which beat rival Holy Spirit 62-60 in the season opener on Thursday night.
“I think every game is going to be like this, but what are you gonna do? We have a lot of work to do. We’re not there yet,” Rodio said. “A lot of little things on offense. But they responded the other night and they responded tonight. They carried the game plan out, mostly. Early on it was perfect, exactly what we wanted. But then we go into a mode for whatever reason where we try to go one-on-one and do stuff we can’t do. We’re going to try to straighten that out. If we don’t do that, they don’t come back and we’re up by 12 or 14 by halftime.
“EHT is very athletic and they are a good team. It wasn’t perfect, but we got the win.”
St. Augustine Prep raced out to a 21-9 lead and early in the second quarter led 24-11 when Semaji Bethea converted a steal, and it looked like the Hermits were going to run away with a win. But the Eagles started to catch fire and stormed all the way back, taking a 25-24 lead when Jay Nelly Reyes converted a layup off a steal with 1:32 left before halftime.
The teams eventually went into the break tied at 26, and EHT (1-1, 1-1 Cape-Atlantic League National) led 44-38 early in the fourth after a big 3-pointer from Jay Salsbery off the bench. But a conventional three-point play from Elijah Brown brought the Hermits (2-0, 2-0 CAL National) within one at 44-43, and Prep took the lead for good with 4:19 remaining on a putback by Ifeoluwa Okebiorun. Ethan Fox nailed a huge three with 3:38 remaining to put Prep up 48-44, and the Eagles had to play catch-up from there.
“We’re still working on our flow offensively and we’ve had a rough time at the start (of the season). We’ve had two nail-biters. We just have to get into a better flow in our offense and get more comfortable, and we’ll be pulling out games much sooner than in these last two,” said Brown, who scored 14 points and added eight rebounds and five assists. “What makes us different is we try to stay calm. Some teams in situations like that might try to speed up and take a bunch of shots, but that’s how you go down by more. We stayed calm and collected and we executed. That’s our main thing, execution — especially late in a game like this, you have to execute.”
“The last game was a struggle, our first game getting back, and that’s a game we should have won that game by a lot. This game, we stayed together as a team and got the win,” said Bethea, who led all scorers with 17 points. “We just had to stay together as a team and keep pushing. We just listened to our coaches. They put the plays together and we just have to execute them and take care of business. It feels good (to win) but we’re not happy about (how we played). But we just want to stay humble and keep winning.”
Egg Harbor Township kept clawing its way back into it in the final three minutes, and with 1:12 remaining Christian Rando drained a 3-pointer to pull the Eagles within 52-50. But Bethea came up big with 21 seconds left, converting both ends of a 1-and-1 from the free-throw line to put Prep up, 54-50. With nine seconds left Reyes hit 1-of-2 from the line to cut the deficit to 54-51, and the Eagles got possession again with five seconds left after a held ball. The final 3-point attempt was off the mark, however, allowing Prep to escape with the win.
“We’re a year older and we’re still getting to know each other a little bit, which is weird to play a whole year last year and still be getting to know each other,” Brown said. “But we have some new guys and some new offenses, but we’re all a year older and learning more.”
What’s next: St. Augustine travels to Middle Township on Monday at 7 p.m. Egg Harbor Township hosts Bridgeton on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays