What began as a potential Valentine Day’s massacre proved to be quite a competitive boys basketball game between Country Day and John Curtis on Wednesday night.
After leading by 17 points midway through the second period, host Curtis found itself facing quite a challenge from the reigning Division IV state champions by intermission and needed all of the second-half grit it could muster to overcome 22 turnovers and record a 70-64 nondistrict victory Wednesday night in River Ridge.
Guards Donnell Jones and Dawson Crosby scored 22 and 15 points, respectively, and forward Steven Poole contributed 15 along with seven rebounds and one blocked shots to spur the Patriots to their third straight victory and fourth in five games.
Curtis guard/forward Troy Taylor was another significant contributor after volunteering to defend Country Day forward Christian Becnel in the fourth quarter after Becnel had scored 10 of his 12 points in the first three periods.
“It’s always great to play a team like Country Day, who’s always very good at this time of year,’’ Curtis coach Mike Krajcer said. “I thought we played pretty well. This is about preparing for the playoffs, and we’re getting better.
“We’re just learning about one another. With this team, the unity was not there at the beginning (of the season) because last year we had five seniors playing. So this team is just getting to learn about each other. We’re learning who to go to, when to go to them and things like that.’’
Curtis (11-16) has another potential educational moment coming Friday night when it closes District 9-5A Catholic League play at home against Jesuit.
Country Day (20-11) has some demons of its own to exorcise after dropping its third straight contest despite getting 17, 14 and 13 points, respectively, from guards Justin Ibieta, Kaleb Jenkins and center Ross Talbot in addition to Becnel’s 12.
The District 11-2A champions had won 10 straight that included a decisive 68-64 championship clinching victory at Riverside on Feb. 1 before its current skid. The Cajuns host reigning Division V state champion Lafayette Christian at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“They were way better than us, way better,’’ Country Day coach Mike McGuire said. “They were all over the boards. They hit some big shots. We made our run, but we just didn’t finish well. We’ve got to find a way to finish.’’
Country Day led only once at 62-61 on a Jenkins’ layup with three minutes remaining that followed the 21st of 22 Curtis turnovers. Curtis guard Andrew Stagni answered with a jump shot and Poole hit one free throw before sinking another field goal to establish a 66-62 advantage with 49.5 seconds left that the Patriots would not relinquish.
In addition to forcing Curtis’s fast-paced offense into 22 turnovers and committing only eight of their own, the Cajuns out-rebounded the Patriots, 35-29, with Talbot grabbing eight rebounds and Ibieta and guard Clinton Nicholas pulling down six apiece.
As far as his team’s turnovers, which helped keep the score close, Krajcer said, “We’re going to play that way. We’re not a team that’s going to hold the ball. We’re going to get the ball down the floor and shoot it.
“The unsung hero for us was Troy Taylor. He was our Dennis Rodman. ’Troy has been a catalyst for us since we’ve been on this winning streak with his rebounding and his defense.
“After (Becnel) scored those two straight baskets in the lane (with a minute left in the third period), Troy looked at me and said, ‘I got it.’ So he switched to defend him. He made the adjustment. That’s a credit to him and that’s what you want from a good, team player.’’