Bringing in the type of size many college teams would love to have, the St. Louis Christian Cougars picked up a first-round victory over Pacific at the 60th Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Cola Thanksgiving Tournament Thursday, 59-48.
“I don’t think we’ll see another team this year that big,” Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer said. “I’ve been a head coach for 20 years and they’re definitely the biggest team I’ve ever seen.” The Cougars not only had size, with 6-11 Ikkena Okwarabezi, 6-7 Anthony Pratt, 6-6 Javier Martinez, 6-5 Nathan Bethel and 5-8 Shelby Elbert in the starting lineup and 6-4 Rasheed Swanston coming off the bench, but also had an outside shooting touch by hitting five three-point baskets.
“They made some threes,” VanLeer said. “I watched them play the other night and they only went 1-6 from threes and those were the only six shots they took from outside the paint, so we were going to let them shoot and they made their first two. If they don’t make those two, we’re right there with them at the end with a chance to win.”
VanLeer felt it was a good way to start the season.
“It was a challenge for us and definitely a good way to start out the season, except not winning the basketball game,” VanLeer said. “I really was proud of what our kids did tonight.”
Pacific had the game’s leading scorer as sophomore Cullen VanLeer dropped in 28 points. But that wasn’t enough to overcome the Cougars.
Christian never trailed in the game, getting a pair of three-point baskets from Bethel to open the game. The Cougars were up 15-11 after one quarter, 33-34 at the break and 49-36 after three quarters.
Stawnston led Christian with 18 points while Martinez dropped in 17 and Pratt ended with 14. Other scorers were Bethel with six and Okwarabezi and Revaughn Garaway with two points each.
Following VanLeer in the scoring column for the Indians were Tanner Brown with eight points, Zeth Boyer with five, Noah Boyer and Brendan Jett-Kell with three apiece and Jeffrey Hinkle with one point.
“I would think this would give our kids some confidence,” VanLeer said. “The only thing I can say we were disappointed about was that we didn’t win the basketball game. We made some mistakes. I don’t think many people when they walked in thought the game was going to be that close. The game actually was a little bit closer than the final score. They made some shots after I subbed in at the end of the game.”
Pacific hit eight three-point baskets and went 15-21 in the contest. The Indians were able to take advantage of Christian’s discipline issues as the Cougars got into foul trouble in both halves.
The Indians returned Friday afternoon to take on Carnahan in a consolation semifinal at 4:30 p.m.
“It’s not going to be easy,” VanLeer said. “They had a 16-point lead on Borgia and Borgia fought back and won the basketball game. We’re going to go from playing a big team to a really quick team that presses a lot. We’re going to have to adjust.”
The winner of Friday’s game will play Saturday in the consolation championship at 4:30 p.m. The loser will play at 3 p.m. for seventh place.
The teams in the other consolation semifinal are Cardinal Ritter and St. Clair.