By Trent Friedel, exclusive to the Times
Saint Mary’s basketball team continued their quest to repeat as district champions and emerge as a post season contender. Standing in the Tigers’ way last Friday were the Northwood-Lena Gators. The Tigers entered the game with a 13 – 4 record and continue a nine-game win streak. They had a 65 – 32 victory Tuesday over University Academy. The Division IV fourth seeded Tigers were up for the challenge and drew first blood. The Tigers won the tip, but it would take a trip or two down the court before Parker Bankston drops in a short-range jumper from the lane.
The Gators make a couple of free throws, but the Tigers score on fast break transition and take an early 12 – 4 lead with 4:56 to go in the first. St. Mary’s led 23–11 after one period of play. Saint Mary’s was effective in most facets of the game. They rebounded fairly well and were great in transition scoring often on fast breaks after rebounds in the back court. The Tigers go with a man to man defense and are really good about communicating and calling out screens for fellow defenders.
Tigers start to pull away from the Gators and lead 31 – 17 midway through the quarter. Gator’s #4 Cameron Loyd is quick as lightening and gets a steal or two from the Tigers. That Gator pressure continues to open up fast break transition scoring for Saint Mary’s and Thomas Howell gets his first rim rattling dunk at the 2:50 mark of the second. Tristen Mitchell shows a spark of good play. He is not afraid of going up against bigger bodies in the low post and it pays dividends with additional points for the Tigers. Saint Mary’s leads 35 – 26 at the break.
Saint Mary’s emerged from the locker room with continued success. Northwood tries to hinder the Tigers with the full court press on inbound plays after scoring. The attempt is futile as the offense finds ease in getting the ball across mid-court and scoring. Parker Bankston finds his range from beyond the arc and tickles the strings with a couple of threes. Howell gets in on that action with a three of his own from the top of the arc. Tigers lead 47 – 28 with 2:56 to go in the third. Bankston finds Mitchell in the paint with a no look rocket pass that wows the crowd. Mitchell makes the easy lay in. Saint Mary’s opens a 20-point lead 58 – 38.
Bankston makes a phenomenal shot to end the third. The in bounds pass goes the distance of the court and makes one bounce that Bankston corrals as he is flying out of bounds. He puts up a falling out shot that finds nothing but net. Words can not do it justice. Something to behold for sure and easily seen on social media. Look it up and be amazed. The Tigers try to go four corners and chew up clock with a substantial lead with around two minutes and change on a fourth quarter clock. Northwood gets a steal or two on errant passes from the Tigers and draw a little closer 66 – 53.
Things start getting a bit interesting as two minutes is an eternity in basketball. The remaining clock would expire with a couple of additional Tiger points and Saint Mary’s continues their win streak and district domination.
Howell finished with another double/double, 21 points, 14 boards and seven swats. Bankston also registered 21 points and Tony Arnold dropped in 13.