John Curtis’ boys basketball team outscored East St. John 49-28 in the second half on its way to a 65-48 victory in the first round of the Country Day Classic on Friday night.
Patriots guard Kai Morgan led the way with 30 points (27 in the second half), 10 rebounds and three steals. Richard Durant added 11 points and Matt Nelson patrolled the paint for Curtis (5-1) with 10 rebounds and three steals.
“I just wanted to overcome that start I had in the first half,” said Morgan, who went 1-for-7 from the field in the first half. “I just had get some more shots up and some better looks. I needed to do that for the team so we could get that ‘W’ tonight.”
East St. John (9-4) came into Saturday’s game after reaching the final of the Allstate Sugar Bowl CYO Tournament and the Newman Invitational, winning the CYO Tournament, but the Wildcats offense struggled throughout the night and they fell apart in the second half.
The Wildcats offense continued to slow down, while Curtis found easy baskets. An 18-3 run in the fourth quarter extended the Curtis lead to 57-43 and the Patriots never looked back.
“I thought we really picked up our tempo defensively,” Curtis coach Mike Krajcer said. “We were a little tentative in the first half, but I think we’re going to be like that sometimes because we’re still trying to find ourselves. But I thought Kai and Richard stepped up the way I always expect them to.”
After an ugly first half, both teams came out scorching to begin the second half. Thirty-six points was all the two teams could muster in the first half, but they combined for 37 in the third quarter alone.
In particular, Morgan caught fire, draining four 3-pointers in the period and scoring 16 points. His high-arcing 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Curtis a 37-36 lead heading into the fourth, their first of the game.
“We had to bring our intensity up,” Morgan said. “That’s the way we’re going to have to play so we can continue to win throughout the season.”
ESJ guard Tre’Von Jasmine struggled with his shot in the first half, which allowed Curtis to slowly crawl its way back into the game. Jasmine, who was the MVP of the CYO tournament earlier this season, missed his first 11 shots from the field and went into the half scoreless.
Troy Green’s nine points kept the Wildcats afloat with their leading scorer struggling, and his four free throws on back-to-back possessions to end the half gave East St. John a 20-16 lead going into halftime.
Jasmine finished with five points on 2–of-17 shooting from the field and added eight rebounds. Green led the Wildcats with 19 points, five rebounds and three steals.
“We just located (Jasmine) and made sure we had a hand up when he shot the ball,” Krajcer said. “In high school basketball, if you play good defense, you always have a shot when you walk on the floor.”
East St. John’s pressure forced Curtis into some early turnovers, allowing the Wildcats to jump out to 13-3 lead to start the game. But Curtis guard Dawson Crosby gave the Patriots some life off the bench and assisted them on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 13 early in the second quarter, scoring eight of those 10 points.
The freshman finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-6 hooting from beyond the arc.