BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — It was simply a matter of playing defense without committing fouls.
That was the explanation given by Bellarmine-Jefferson High Coach Julian Andrade and his star player, Micah Shirley, about a dominant second half in which the Guards pulled away from visiting Santa Fe League opponent St. Anthony.
"We did the same thing as in the first half," said Andrade, who is in his first season as head coach of the Guards after serving as an assistant under Bryan Camacho. "It was just a matter of playing defense with our feet and not with our hands."
"We stopped making mistakes and committing fouls," said Shirley, who scored a game-high 22 points in Bell-Jeff's 54-38 home win against the Saints on Wednesday night. "Once we figured out what was happening, we took the game over."
Shirley played an instrumental role in the third-quarter, scoring 12 of his 22 and taking the game into his own hands just as the Guards (7-11, 2-0 in league) took the game over. Bell-Jeff outscored St. Anthony, 18-3, in the third after the teams were knotted up going into the halftime break.
The Saints (7-11, 1-2) had just embarked on a run of their own, scoring 11 of 13 late second-quarter points following a three-point basket as time expired in the second quarter. That basket brought them back from a nine-point deficit.
The momentum was lost at halftime, however, given that Shirley stepped up and guided a 12-0 run early in the third frame.
On the other end of the court, the Bell-Jeff defense was stifling enough to hold the Saints to no field goals in the third quarter, causing eight turnovers in the eight-minute stanza.
"We made some great plays, and crucial buckets that pulled us apart," Andrade said.
The second half was as dominating for the Guards as it was a nightmare for the Saints, who scored just 10 points in the final two quarters on just two field goals.
Misfires from the free-throw line and poor shooting from the field, along with an excess of turnovers, kept St. Anthony from making another run, as they had in the second quarter.
Just to be on the safe side, and to prevent a repeat comeback attempt, Andrade called a timeout early in the fourth quarter as soon as the Saints scored four quick points and got to within 11 of the lead. The Guards responded, scoring seven unanswered to put the game away.
Complementing Shirley, the Guards received balanced scoring, notably from Brandon White (eight points), Mario Marquez (six), Kevin Yuenyongsakul (six), Connor Linquist (five) and Elijah Reed (five).
St. Anthony's Jone-e Rellis put in a team-high nine points.
Before the Santa Fe League season began, Andrade said he expected his biggest competition in the conference to come from St. Anthony, the defending champion. Bell-Jeff finished runner-up to the Saints last season.
"I think they're buying into my system," Andrade said. "Slowly but surely we're putting it together."