After losing two of their first four games to begin the season, De La Salle was a team in search of an identity.
After defeating Newman 70-54 at home on Tuesday night, the Cavaliers (17-3) have won 15 of their last 16 games and have a much clearer picture of the team they want to be.
“We just never give up,” said De La Salle’s Miles Smartt, who scored 20 points (all in the second half) and three steals. “Our coach always tells us you don’t win the game in the first quarter, it takes four quarters to win. We know if we keep playing and believing in our team, we’re going to pull through.”
De La Salle coach Paul Kelly acknowledged that he’s proud of his team’s progress, but he wants them to maintain that “one game at a time” mentality.
“We really don’t talk about numbers and streaks,” Kelly said. “We focus on getting guys to play harder and getting better everyday. We push these guys to work hard and get better everyday, and we try to prevent them from worrying about all the other stuff.”
After going into halftime with a three-point deficit, De La Salle leaned on its pressure defense and the hot shooting of Smartt to take a hold of the game. A bevy of Newman (9-10) turnovers to begin the third quarter allowed the Cavaliers to go on a 15-2 run, giving them a 46-35 lead after a floater by Stephen Kelly.
But Newman Riley Demps fought to keep his team in the game the entire night, and his hot perimeter shooting did just that. After falling behind double digits, Demps drained four straight 3-pointers down the stretch of the third quarter to keep Newman alive, but Smartt seemed to match every Demps shot with a shot of his own.
Smartt scored 15 points in the third quarter as the Cavaliers took a 54-47 lead into the fourth.
“Sometimes we don’t play that well in the first half, but coach tells us that we have to pick up our intensity,” Smartt said. “That’s what we did. We’re trying to go far this year and we’re not letting anything stop us.”
The De La Salle pressure defense went up to another level in the fourth quarter. The Greenies only managed seven points in the final period as De La Salle cruised to the victory.
“In the second half, I thought we had great energy on defense,” Kelly said. “We trapped them really hard, and we didn’t leave any of their shooters open. If you play full-court press and don’t play hard, you’re going to leave guys open. Once we did less of that, we started making things easier for ourselves.”
Late in a hard-fought first quarter, it seemed as if the Greenies have been dealt an early blow with their leading scorer Peter Drennan drawing his third foul late in the period. The senior was forced to watch the entire second quarter from the bench, and after a hot start from De La Salle to begin the second, it appeared as if the Cavaliers took control.
But Demps came in off the Newman bench and caught fire for the Greenies. After De La Salle raced out on a 9-2 run to begin the period, Demps scored 10 points as Newman fought back with a 17-5 run to end the quarter. Newman led 33-30 going into halftime.
“To be honest, I thought they out-competed us in the first half,” Kelly said. “We just reminded our guys at halftime that we need to be determined to play our type of game. I thought we got more contributions from our entire team in the second half.”
Demps scored 24 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line, and Drennan had 10 points and five rebounds.