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Pulley-led St. Christopher's staves off late Church Hill rally

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It all looked so easy.

First, there was the quick start on their home court.

Then, there was the three-minute, 16-0 run to open the second quarter.

Then, there was the apparently comfortable 16-point lead with 6:30 left in the fourth.

But though every bounce of the basketball seemed to favor St. Christopher’s on Tuesday evening, the Saints’ 78-68 victory over Church Hill Academy in the Scott Gymnasium was anything but a cakewalk.

“Church Hill Academy’s record [7-19] is misleading,” St. Chris coach Hamill Jones said. “They’ve played a lot of good teams very competitively. We knew this would be a challenging game.

“Our guys came prepared. At halftime, we talked about continuing to box out and play defense. We’d shot well, but sometimes shooting comes and goes, and you have to continue to defend and rebound.

“We knew they’d make a run. I was proud of the composure our guys showed on the floor when they did.”

The Saints hit 5 of 10 shots in the first period, used their harrying man-to-man to limit the Phantoms to 5-for-18 accuracy, and took an 18-12 lead into the second.

By the time the visitors scored again, the Saints had drained three 3-pointers (two by Zach Murphy, who contributed 12 points off the bench in the quarter, and one by Keishawn Pulley), and opened their widest margin (22 points) of the game despite the Phantoms’ defensive adjustments.

“We can play against man or zone,” said Pulley, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who scored 21 points. “When they play zone, they’re pretty long. We had to make sure we made the right play, didn’t turn the ball over, hit a lot of shots.”

Down 40-25 at the break, the unfazed Phantoms shot 6 for 13 in the third quarter, but despite 3-pointers by Wendell Tomlin, Derrick Atkins, Tykie Jones and James Patterson, they entered the fourth still trailing 60-45.

“We tried to focus on getting a good start, then try to keep that lead and extend that lead so we could control the game,” said Trent Hendrick, a 6-1 senior forward. “Basketball’s a game of ups and downs, a game of runs.

“Their main guy [Patterson, who finished with 20 points] got hot, hit a couple of jumpers and shortened the margin a little bit. We’ve been preaching defense and rebounding. Defense and rebounding travel wherever you go.”

The Phantoms intensified their pressure in the fourth with a couple of looks out of a 1-3-1 alignment, but try as they might, they could get no closer than 7 points (73-66) when Patterson drained a 3 at 2:53 and Derrick Atkins hit a layup at 2:24.

“We’re an experienced group,” said 5-9 senior point guard Nikkos Kovanes, who directed the offense and whose 3-ball from the left wing at 1:40 returned the Saints’ lead to double digits. “The vibe of the team is we’re all calm. Nobody panicked. You just have to be mentally tough and respond to all the ups and downs of the game.”

The Saints connected on 28 of 51 shots. The Phantoms, who connected on 9 of 28 from the field in the first half, hit 15 of 29 in the second and outrebounded St. Christopher’s 29-27. The home team forced 12 turnovers, the visitors 14.

“Basketball’s a 32-minute game,” said CHA coach Tim May, referencing his team’s response to its early deficit. “If we think the game is over, we might as well take off our jerseys and go home.

“There’s always something you can learn whether you’re winning or losing. We’re just trying to get better.”

CHA 12 13 20 23 — 68

STC 18 22 20 18 — 78

CHA (7-19) — Tomlin 18, Eddins 7, Dev. Atkins 0, Patterson 20, Der. Atkins 10, Brooks 0, Boatwright 0, Jones 8, K. Goodman 2, O. Goodman 3. Totals: 24 14-21 68.

STC (6-3) — Pulley 21, Hendrick 15, Grant 0, McCoy 0, Cosby 8, Bridges 5, Murphy 12, Kovanes 9, B. Jennings 6, Waller 0, W. Jennings 0, Preston 0. Totals: 28 15-18 78.

3-point goals: CHA- Tomlin 2, Patterson 2, Der. Atkins, Jones. SC — Kovanes 3, Pulley 2, Murphy 2.

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