Dogged de­fense sends O’Hara to Catholic League quar­ter­fi­nals

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - By Matthew DeGe­orge mde­ge­orge@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @sports­doc­tormd on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA » Eli­jah Smith was busy mak­ing noise on the of­fen­sive end in the first quar­ter Wed­nes­day night, busy outscor­ing Arch­bishop Ryan by his lone­some over the first eight min­utes of a first round Catholic League en­counter.

But the Car­di­nal O’Hara guard knew that if the Lions were go­ing to meet their ob­jec­tives on the day, they would have to bring the en­ergy on the other end of the court. One text­book close-out, and one clang off the Ryan rims at a time, Smith and his team­mates de­liv­ered.

O’Hara blan­keted Ryan into a pu­trid shoot­ing night, the No. 9 seed steal­ing away from the North­east with a 5847 up­set over the eight-seeded Raiders, O’Hara’s first Catholic League play­off win since 2011-12.

The win earns O’Hara (1111) a neigh­bor­hood show­down with top-seeded Bon­ner & Pren­der­gast Fri­day. The Fri­ars edged O’Hara, 67-63, just four days ago.

The de­fen­sive end is where O’Hara made its money. Their dogged de­fen­sive ef­fort, which started with a sti­fling 2-3 zone, held Ryan to a woe­ful 2-for-21 from 3-point line. Ryan was just 19-for-59 (32.2 per­cent) from the field. And the 7-for14 ef­fort at the line — in­clud­ing 1-for-7 to start the fourth — was the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of frus­tra­tion that would boil over closer to the game’s con­clu­sion.

There wasn’t one de­fen­sive hero for O’Hara, though Kevin Reeves, Gar­rett Ripp and Smith, of­ten tasked with charg­ing out on cor­ner shoot­ers, were the most vis­i­ble guardians. The stingi­ness did have a pri­mary tar­get though: The big No. 5 on the back of Ryan’s Colin Reed.

Reed burned O’Hara for 22 points in their reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing; Wed­nes­day, he was shack­led to a 2-for-10 day, in­clud­ing 1-for-7 from 3-point land, and a measly five points.

“In practice for two or three days, we were just fo­cus­ing on get­ting all the way out on shoot­ers, be­cause we didn’t want Reed to light us up like he did the first game,” Smith said. “So we did good on that.”

“Colin Reed, if he gets hot, that’s when the whole Ryan team gets hot,” O’Hara point guard An­twuan But­ler said. “If he’s not mak­ing shots, they won’t make shots. The first Catholic League game, he was beat­ing us by him­self. He was hit­ting a lot of shots, and then Ryan was go­ing. With­out him, they’re just not able to score.”

The same could be said, you’d think, of But­ler. But O’Hara en­tered half­time firmly ahead by six points with­out But­ler hav­ing reg­is­tered a point and tot­ing three fouls, two on the of­fen­sive end as the glim­mers of frus­tra­tion cropped up. Part of the com­fort was pro­vided by Smith, who hit his first four shots and tal­lied 11 of his 17 points in the first.

“If he wasn’t scor­ing, we might have been down go­ing into the half,” But­ler said. “He put us on our back and was get­ting buck­ets.”

Ripp hit a pair of late 3-point­ers in the first quar­ter to put O’Hara up 18-8 af­ter a quar­ter. He had eight points in the first half as O’Hara weath­ered an of­fen­sive lull in an un­bear­ably sloppy sec­ond quar­ter.

The mantra go­ing at half­time, as prom­i­nent as the “keep it up” de­fen­sive im­per­a­tive, was that O’Hara’s lead­ing scorer But­ler would get go­ing even­tu­ally.

The All-Catholic guard turned it on as ex­pected, and in a way none of the Raiders could match. He tal­lied all 24 of his points af­ter the break, nine in the third quar­ter as he pressed the is­sue go­ing to the bas­ket.

“They knew I was go­ing to get go­ing,” But­ler said. “They knew they had to put me in po­si­tions to get go­ing. Coach just told me, ‘close the game out. You haven’t scored, now it’s your turn to step up.’”

“We’ve al­ways got con­fi­dence in Booty,” Smith said of But­ler. “We know he’s go­ing to pick it up no mat­ter what. That wasn’t re­ally some­thing we were wor­ried about. We were just fo­cused.”

But­ler was also the an­tag­o­nist in Ryan’s un­rav­el­ling. Jaquill Stone, Ryan’s lead­ing scorer with 10 points de­spite 4-for-14 shoot­ing, fouled out with 2:43 left on a hack of But­ler, just af­ter Stone’s 3-point play cut the mar­gin to seven and of­fered slight hope. Like­wise, But­ler drew the fifth foul on Amin Bryant, who com­pounded it with a tech­ni­cal foul. Six straight points at the line from But­ler, who went 14-for-16 at the char­ity stripe, stretch the edge to 13 points and re­moved all doubt.

Kevin Lezin paired nine points with nine re­bounds for Ryan, Bryant added eight points and Devin Var­gas’ heady play con­trib­uted seven points.

But among the many com­modi­ties Ryan lacked was some­one like But­ler to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and bend it to his will. In do­ing so, with the am­ple con­tri­bu­tions from a youth­ful sup­port­ing cast that has co­a­lesced quickly and will reach its po­ten­tial long af­ter But­ler heads to Austin Peay next sea­son, But­ler’s lead­er­ship by ex­am­ple in­stilled its most poignant les­son yet.

“Now that the team sees Eli­jah Smith can do it, too, it’s trust,” But­ler said. “We’re build­ing trust into the team. We see that other guys can score for us and take us on their back. And I’m just here to close out games, keep every­thing in com­po­sure.”


Car­di­nal O’Hara’s An­twuan But­ler, seen agaisnt Spring­field in De­cem­ber, scored 24 points in the sec­ond half Wed­nes­day to send O’Hara to a 58-47 win over Arch­bishop Ryan in the first round of the Catholic League play­offs.

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