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The St. Catharine College men had only won back to back games once this year before traveling to Rio Grande two weeks ago. That trip resulted in a win that started the Patriots’ current four game Mid-South Conference winning streak, two of those victories coming against nationally ranked opponents.
Following the Rio Grande win, J.T. Burton’s team won at No. 24 Shawnee State. Then last week they topped No. 22 University of the Cumberlands and unranked Cumberland University, both games contested at home.
The Patriots look to keep the momentum going this week with two more home games. On Thursday they welcome UVA-Wise (10-8, 6-7) to Lourdes Hall and on Saturday they host No. 7 Pikeville (19-3, 10-3). Earlier on the road the patriots lost 87-69 to Pikeville and 68-61 to UVA-Wise.
St Catharine (10-10, 6-8) is now in eighth place in the conference, one-half game behind UVA-Wise. Only eight of the 11 MSC teams play in the conference tournament so the remaining six conference contests are all key for the Patriots’ postseason hopes.
University of the Cumberlands
The St. Catharine College men’s basketball team, struggling through the first half of the season, has not been nationally ranked this year. But again Thursday they made an impact on the rankings by knocking off a team that is in the top-25.
That victory came against the University of the Cumberlands who came to Lourdes Hall ranked 22nd, but left with a decisive 85-68 loss.
“We played really well,” said Burton. “When we share the basketball like we did and play good defense we will be in every game.”
The Patriots shared the ball better than they have all season as shown by the 22 assists they recorded. Just as the scoring was balanced with four players in double figures, so were the assists as nine different players entered that stat column, led by Omar Skinner who handed out six assists. Skinner also led the way in scoring with 22 points. Arthur McMillan added 17 while Dominique Roy and William Tolefree had 14 and 13 points respectively.
“We held them to 42 percent shooting which still isn’t bad but that is the first time in the last four games (three of them wins) that we have allowed the opponent better than 35 percent,” added Burton.
The unselfishness on offense and sticky defense allowed the Patriots to take a lead three minutes into the game that they would never relinquish. The lead stood at 44-29 at halftime and increased to as many as 22 points in the second half. Cumberlands (17-6, 8-5) never got closer than ten points after intermission.
Travis Wilkins led the Patriots on the boards with seven rebounds as St. Catharine held a 35-28 rebounding advantage. They forced the visitors into 21 turnovers while committing 12 miscues themselves.
Following Saturday’s win over Cumberland University (Tenn.) the St. Catharine College Patriots still found themselves in eighth place in the 11-team Mid-South Conference. But the dramatic 76-70 win over the visiting Bulldogs was an indication of how far J.T. Burton’s team has come this season.
Saturday’s victory avenged a 79-59 loss the Patriots suffered at Cumberland on Jan. 3. It also gave St. Catharine some breathing room over the Bulldogs who are in ninth place but now two full games behind the Patriots.
But it did not come easy as it looked like the Bulldogs (8-14, 4-10) would sweep the season series as they led by 11 points with only 5:37 to play. The Patriots, however, came off the mat to score 17 unanswered points to lead 71-65 with 41 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs did cut the advantage to 71-68 with a trey at: 35 but St. Catharine made five of six free throws to clinch the victory.
“We communicated better at the end of the game and that was the difference,” Burton said. “These guys really enjoy playing with each other and they get along so well on and off the court. That is what allows us to make a comeback like that, nobody panicked.”
Both teams shot 45 percent from the field but the game was decided at the foul line. The Patriots made 32 of 38 charity tosses while Cumberland had only eight attempts, making five of those. The Bulldogs were 7-20 from 3-point range while St. Catharine was 4-8 from long range.
Junior forward Arthur McMillan led the Patriots with 18 points. Travis Wilkins and William Tolefree joined him in double figures with 17 and 16 respectively. Omar Skinner had 11 rebounds to lead the Patriots to a 31-24 edge on the boards.