SAN MARINO — The St. Monica Academy boys’ basketball team had to work with tight spacing as it visited Southwestern Academy for its International League game Wednesday.
The newly renovated George Washington Gym on the Southwestern campus still resembled its old model with the court boundaries within inches from the walls.
In the confines, it took a quarter for the Crusaders to figure things out against the Suns.
On the back of forward Charlie Boles’ 23 first-half points, St. Monica handled Southwestern with ease, grabbing a 74-43 victory.
“Whenever we play in this gym, because of the tight space, you always know it’s going to be a rough game, so we embrace that,” said St. Monica coach Peter Grimm, whose team is in second place in league behind Le Lycee. “We employ a strategy for this gym that we don’t use any other time, really, and it suits our boys well because we’re a little rough.
“… We actually enjoy playing here, but it does take us a little time to settle down and figure out that there are still some angles and passing lanes, you just have to work a little harder finding them.”
The Crusaders (11-8, 5-2 in league) earned its fourth consecutive league victory Wednesday. St. Monica can solidify second place with a win against the Lycee International of Los Angeles on Friday.
“We’re going to be doing a little scoreboard watching because it’s still to be decided on what the standings are going to be for our league,” said Grimm, the reigning All-Area Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year. “We had a rough first half [of the league season] and lost some games that we shouldn’t. We had some injuries, but that’s not an excuse because we still needed to win those games anyway.
“We’ve called the second half to our season ‘The Revenge Tour,’ because we want to get back at teams that beat us in the first half and we’re doing that with the exception of one game. So this game was big and it makes the next game even more meaningful.”
The Crusaders trailed the Suns (2-10, 1-7) for much of the first quarter before freshman Liam Mireles stole the ball and tied it at 9 with 2:41 left.
Boles hit a pair of baskets off of inbounds pass from Ernie Grimm to lift the Crusaders to a 14-11 lead with 50 seconds left in the first, A St. Monica mini-scoring run came to an end with one second left in the quarter to close out the frame with a 14-13 lead.
“They were really aggressive,” Boles said. “A lot of tugging and pulling that threw us off at first, but we started getting our rhythm. We had some pump-fakes, got the ball in the middle, kicked it out, got it back in again.”
Boles scored nine points in the first quarter that saw seven St. Monica turnovers. The Crusaders hit six of 21 shots from the field and only sank two free throws of 12 in the quarter.
St. Monica, which advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division V-A semifinals and reached the Division V state playoffs last season. found its groove in the second quarter after a trio of jumpers from Boles and a three-pointer from Mireles led to a 23-16 lead.
Boles started rolling with 2:58 left in the half after the senior hit a pair of put-backs en route to a personal 8-0 scoring run to give St. Monica a 31-17 lead.
“Today, [Boles] went back to the old Charlie,” Grimm said. “He threw caution to the wind and that’s the way he played last year: rebounds and put-backs. He scores between 15 to 25 points a game and half of them are his put-backs. I call him a throwback player because he goes up strong every time with two hands and refs reward that.”
The senior shot six of eight from the field and two of four from the line to finish with 23 points in the half. Boles sat out for much of the second half to rest his knees and finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five steals.
“That’s been a lot of my game recently; just playing aggressive and finding the ball,” Boles said. “I have injuries in both of my knees so I have to play smart, position myself well and trust Ernie [Grimm] and Francis [Mireles] to make good plays.”
Ernie Grimm finished with 13 rebounds and six assists, while Mireles, a freshman, tallied 11 points and eight assists. Senior Francis Mireles recorded five steals, three in the third quarter.
As Southwestern struggled to even attempt a field goal, St. Monica embarked on an 11-0 run capped by a three-pointer from Liam Mireles for a 42-19 lead with 4:50 left in the third.
The Suns finally made their first basket on a three-point attempt at the 4:10 mark of the third quarter and hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to 42-24.
But the St. Monica dominance in the post continued to put pressure on Southwestern, and a drive down the lane from sophomore James Grimm gave the Crusaders a three-point play to close out the third with a 53-31 lead.
“We were trying to get more ball movement and a lot less turnovers,” said Ernie Grimm regarding the second half. “That’s our goal right now, getting less turnovers. We’re just trying to get that first pass off, get ourselves moving, keep our ball secure and maintain possession.”