St. Augustine coach Mitchell Johnson can barely recall the last time he was in the John Curtis gym.
He guessed it had to be when he was manning the junior varsity team for St. Aug, and it was only the second time.
Mitchell’s third and most recent trip to River Ridge, however, is sure to leave a lasting impression.
St. Augustine junior guard Caleb Daniels put on a show from start to finish, registering a game-high 38 points to lift the Purple Knights a 78-63 District 9-5A victory over Curtis on Friday night.
The Knights (12-7, 2-0) maintained their post atop the Catholic League by not only getting by Curtis, but a tough road crowd.
“In that environment, you have to hit shots, play defense and get stops to get the crowd out of it before it starts,” said Daniels, who also added eight rebounds. “It carried us a long way tonight.”
“It was pretty much exactly what I expected — a hostile environment,” added Johnson. “We got used to the crowd, prepared for everything and I was pleased with the energy. We were prepared to play this game.”
That preparation was on full display as St. Aug connected on 8-of-11 shots from the field in the opening quarter, including Daniels’ 3-pointer to beat the buzzer as the Knights raced out to a 24-13 lead.
Defensively, St. Aug limited Curtis to 28-percent shooting in the opening half. That was compounded by a 4-of-16 shooting from from the free-throw line, which Patriots coach Mike Krajcer said doomed his team entering halftime.
“We lost the game in the first half,” he said. “We were only down (nine), but if we made free throws like we were supposed to we would’ve been ahead. It changed the second-half complexion. Unfortunately for us, we lost the game in the first half, and we couldn’t overcome that.”
Curtis had difficulty keeping pace with the St. Aug 1-2 punch of Daniels and Devante Jones. The duo spearheaded a 22-point third quarter to put the game out of reach early.
Jones finished with 23 points, four rebounds and three assists, and along with Daniels, stepped up to a challenge by their coach.
“Before the game, coach told me and D.J. (Jones) to step up to (Friday night),” Daniels said. “We put the team on our back and got the ‘W’ tonight.”
“Caleb did a great job leading. D.J. did a great job leading,” added Mitchell. “We lean on those guys. They’re seasoned, and it’s good to have, but it always helps to have three guys play good around them, too.”
Junior guard Kai Morgan overcame a slow first half to lead Curtis with 26 points. After making only two field goals in the first two quarters, Morgan totaled 19 points in the second half.
Morgan is still making his way back into form after a minor leg surgery. He is also making the transition to a combo-guard role.
“(Morgan) did a good job,” Krajcer said. “He’s still favoring his leg a bit. But it’s a different team, a different year. We’re doing a good job, and every game we’re getting better. We missed some wide-open shots, and you can’t do that when you play a good team like St. Aug.”