Basically, the news was all good from the St. Catharine College men’s basketball program last week. J.T. Burton’s squad saw three new players become eligible at semester’s end; the Patriots were ranked nationally for the first time in NAIA, holding down the 15th spot; and the team ran their win streak to six games with three wins including two conference road victories.
But, as Burton knows from his three years of coaching in the conference, nothing comes easy when you hit the road in the Mid-South. The Patriots trailed for much of the game at West Virginia Tech Friday before pulling out an 85-78 win. Ditto for Saturday night at Rio Grande where the Patriots scored the last 11 points of the game to win 74-68. Not only was it a successful weekend for the Patriots but also a grueling one as they were forced to play back to back night after Thursday’s game at West Virginia Tech was pushed back to Friday because of bad weather. “Ugly, ugly wins,” said Burton after his team improved to 3-1 in the conference and 9-2 overall. “It is hard to play consecutive nights on the road and, then, when your leading scorer and Player of the Week the previous week in the conference, goes 1-21 from the field in two games it is really tough.” Brandon Johnson, the team’s leading scorer entering the weekend, was 2-19 from the field in two games and 1-15 from three point range. He was shooting 38 percent from long range before his weekend drought. “But now that we have everyone healthy and eligible we were able to find players to show up and get the job done,” added Burton. Those players Friday night were Kashiff Carr (20 points), Xavier Keeling (19) and Ervin Williams (18) as the Patriots struggled through 34 percent shooting to win 85-78 due to work at the foul line. With a whopping 52 fouls called in the game the Patriots made 29 of 35 free throws (83 percent) while the Golden Bears (5-3) were 12-17 from the line. On Saturday it was elementary my Dear Watson as the Patriots’ got the final six points of the game from guard Antoine Watson to win 74-68. After Williams tied the game 68-68 with 2:25 to play, Watson gave the Patriots a two point lead with a field goal and then hit four consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory over the RedStorm that fell to 4-8 overall and 0-3 in the MSC. Williams led the Patriots with 23 points while Watson and Keeling added 16 and 15 respectively. “Our players see now that this is a total team effort and we may have someone different step up each night,” Burton said. Earlier last week, the Patriots hosted IU-Southeast and came out with a 98-90 win Tuesday. Carr led four players in double figures with 22 points. Johnson added 16 while Watson and Keeling had 15 apiece. Now it is off to face some big time opponents as the Patriots will travel to Evansville for games December 29 and 30 for two exhibition contests. First the patriots will take on Bellarmine who is ranked #1 in NCAA D-II and then they will play Southern Indiana who is ranked 15th.