The St. Catharine College Patriots won just one of the two games last week against Mid-South Conference visitors from Ohio, but that one victory was enough to pull J.T. Burton’s team from last place in the MSC into a tie for eighth place among the 11 teams.
Shawnee State (9-7, 6-3) topped the Patriots 68-59 on Thursday, but St. Catharine snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday with a 73-67 win over Rio Grande (6-12, 2-7).
The Patriots now own an 8-8 overall record and a 2-6 conference slate. They travel to first-place Pikeville (17-1, 7-1) on Thursday and to UVA-Wise, who is tied for fifth place with a 9-5 overall record and a 4-4 conference mark, on Saturday.
“I am not worried too much because we have a lot more to play,” said Burton, “but with that said, we have to get us some wins and that is always tough on the road in this conference.”
Burton has analyzed statistics and found that, “we have not been very good in the last nine minutes of games,” and that play down the stretch is what cost the Patriots in the 68-59 loss to visiting Shawnee State.
Actually, the most recent late-game slide came a little before the nine-minute mark as the Bears battled back to win the Mid-South Conference clash. After a 29-22 halftime lead, the Patriots led by as many as ten points in the second half and still held a 44-36 advantage with 12 minutes to play.
But Shawnee State went on a 13-4 run to take a one-point lead at the 7:08 mark. The Patriots briefly regained the lead at 50-49, but when Jeremy Bennington canned one of his seven treys for the game at 6:11, Shawnee State took a 52-50 lead and would never trail again.
“I was up until 3:30 watching the game film and you can’t say it was a lack of effort on our part or that we weren’t hustling,” said Burton. “The ball just seemed to fall their way toward the end and they hit some big shots.”
No bigger shots than Bennington’s, who led all scorers with 26 points, including 7-13 from three-point range. Following the shot that gave his team the lead, Bennington drilled his next three three-point attempts to put the Bears ahead 61-55.
St. Catharine led by as many as nine points early in the game as William Tolefree scored 11 of his team-high 14 points in the first four minutes of the contest. Travis Wilkins, the Patriots’ leading scorer, added 13 points, but played just 15 minutes due to foul trouble. Omar Skinner had 12 points.
St. Catharine shot just 37 percent from the field, while the Bears connected on 48 percent. Shawnee State was only 9-21 from the foul line (43 percent) and the Patriots were 74 percent (14-19) at the charity stripe. Shawnee State held a 38-31 rebounding advantage. Wilkins led the Patriots with nine boards and Arthur McMillan, in his first game for the Patriots, grabbed eight caroms.
“We just have to keep playing hard and we’ll be all right,” Burton concluded. “We have some new guys this semester, so we just have to learn to play together and for them to understand their roles.”
Early in Saturday’s contest it looked like the Patriots would be headed for a fourth-consecutive defeat as the RedStorm sprinted to a 16-1 lead, but the home team regrouped in time to forge a 27-27 halftime tie en route to the 73-67 win.
Arthur McMillan sank two free throws to open the second half and the Patriots never trailed again. However, it still didn’t come easy as Rio Grande whittled a 13-point deficit down to three points with 1:54 to play. But Nick Porter, a freshman guard from Owensboro Apollo High School, then drilled a three-pointer and the RedStorm was never able to get the game back to a single possession.
The Patriots had a balanced attack with four players in double figures. McMillan and Will Tolefree each had 14 points, while Omar Skinner and Kevin Kornegay had 13 and 12, respectively.
Travis Wilkins, who has led the Patriots in scoring since starting play in December, had just eight points, but led the team to a 43-34 rebounding advantage with eight boards, while also blocking three shots.
St. Catharine shot 44 percent from the field, including 10-23 (43.5 percent) from three-point range. Rio Grande hit 40 percent overall and was 5-21 (24 percent) from behind the arc. The Patriots were 15-27 (56 percent) at the foul line and the RedStorm was 10-16 (62.5 percent).