With four seniors getting their first starts of the season 21 games in, the chemistry just wasn't there at the beginning for the Truman boys basketball team.
“We had the seniors in for the entire first quarter for Senior Night,” Truman coach Billy Guinnee said. “They were in an unfamiliar position.”
That showed when the team committed 11 turnovers in the first quarter. Not exactly a recipe for success. Luckily for the Patriots, their lone regular starter, Michael Hernandez, helped right the ship as he poured in a game-high 21 points and swiped five steals en route to a 62-45 victory against St. Joseph Central.
Whether it was a step-back jumper with a hand in his face or a fast-break bucket, the quick-footed point guard put on a show. He capped off his big night by nonchalantly flipping the ball in the hoop from the left hash mark late in the fourth quarter.
“I wasn't expecting to get another shot off in the game,” Hernandez recalled when his team was up by 19 late in the game. “I caught it and no one was guarding me, so I just flipped it up there.”
“That's just Mike being Mike right there,” Patriots junior Keith Fletcher said chuckling.
Things started out rough for Hernandez, who had a handful of turnovers in the first, two of which came on alley-oop passes that missed the mark. His shot, however, was on. He was 7 of 10 from the floor, leading his team on a night it made 63 percent of its shots.
“He played outstanding basketball,” Guinnee said of Hernandez. “His hustle was there and (he) showed great leadership.”
It wasn't just the offense that was clicking, the defense shined, too. The Indians were held to just 4-of-19 shooting in the first half and 15 of 47 for the game. The Patriots were the beneficiary of St. Joseph's live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 mentality, as the Indians missed all 18 attempts from behind the arc.
“They only had a couple of guys I felt could make 3s,” Guinnee said. “That's why we played a lot of zone, to make them shoot it from the outside instead of letting them get position in the paint.”
“We came out with a lot of energy on defense,” added sophomore Reid Titus, who backed up Hernandez with 12 points. “We executed our game plan really well.”
With the Indians struggling to make shots, the Patriots managed to turn a slim 9-6 first-quarter lead into a 25-11 advantage going into the break thanks to 13 combined points between Hernandez and Titus.
Central narrowed the gap to 27-17 early in the third after Jackson Riddle's fast-break basket. Truman then put its foot on the gas pedal, outscoring its conference foe 14-6 for the remainder of the period, capped by a Titus layup at the buzzer which put his team up by 18 going into the fourth.
The Patriots cruised the rest of the way and had five different players score in the final stanza to close the 17-point win.
The victory was a much needed one for Truman, as it has struggled to 8-13 overall and 2-4 in the Suburban Middle Six conference. Hernandez and company just hope it's a win that will give the team momentum with districts just around the corner.
“We believe this is a good win, especially with districts coming up,” Hernandez said. “We know we should have a better record than this. We've not performed well lately. We had to have this.”
TRUMAN 68, ST. JOSEPH CENTRAL 38: Truman raced to a 23-4 lead after the first quarter and cruised from there to clinch at least a share of the Suburban Middle Six title with three games still to play.
Becca Jonas poured in 21 points to pace the Class 5 No. 2-ranked Patriots, who improved to 20-1 overall and 7-0 in the Middle Six. Abby Hix drained four 3-pointers on her way to 17 points and Bri Savidge added 15. Jonas the Savidge each grabbed eight rebounds.
"We got out to a pretty fast start. Defense kind of keyed the big first quarter run, and we shot the ball really well,” said Truman coach Steve Cassity, whose team now has three straight 20-win seasons. “The girls are passing the ball well and shooting the ball well. I hope can continue to take this through districts into sectionals.”
Before the game, the Patriots presented Jonas and Hix with basketballs to commemorate both of them recently topping 1,000 career points.