Centerville falls to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary

CENTERVILLE – Brook Cupps liked the fight his Centerville basketball team showed to keep coming back. The obstacle was falling behind and falling behind and falling behind.

The other obstacle? Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, the school LeBron James made famous, the school with nine state championships, the school others measure themselves against.

“They’re really talented and can make you pay,” Cupps said.

The Irish (10-3) answered every Centerville (10-2) run with big shots and big stops and held off the Elks for a 63-59 victory Friday night in a battle of Division I powers.

Cupps’ anchors that are musts for his team to defeat other top teams didn’t hold. That was especially true in the first half when the Elks fell behind 21-12 in the first quarter and 33-25 at halftime when the Irish answered a 9-0 Elks run with an 8-0 run.

“Offensively, we want to be simple and play together,” Cupps said. “Early in the first half we had way too many possessions where we were just shooting it because we could get it off instead of getting the best shot that we can get.”

The Irish were efficient from the 3-point line with seven makes and got 14 points inside from ever-improving senior center Darius Stratford. Cupps saw too many defensive breakdowns that led to open shots, violating the defensive anchor of no comfort, no vision for the opponent.

“They continually split ball screens that we have been working on,” Cupps said. “We can’t do that because that’s how it breaks down.”

Still, the Elks trailed 42-39 entering the fourth behind Jonathan Powell and Gabe Cupps, who scored 20 apiece. But the Irish opened with a 7-2 run and led by 10 four times.

“A very nice win over a very good team,” Irish coach Dru Joyce said. “When you can win on the road in front of this kind of crowd, that’s big.”

Joyce saw his team do some of the things on offense Cupps was wanting his team to do, even with leading scorer Lance Hayes out much of the first half with foul trouble. Hayes finished with 13 points and point guard Kevin Hamilton scored 18, including six free throws late in the game.

“Whenever they made that bucket or got a couple in a row, we answered, and we answered them the right way,” Joyce said. “We didn’t necessarily get a quick one. We got a good shot.”

The Elks face another difficult test against SoCal Academy at 8:15 p.m. Sunday at Flyin’ To The Hoop at Trent Arena. The Elks also beat SoCal last year. Cupps’ biggest concern, however, is making sure his team understands its shortcomings and anchors its offense and defense in the things he demands.

“It’s a lot easier to communicate that to our guys than it is when you win by 15 and you’re not doing stuff right,” he said. “When you do those things we talked about, you win. When you don’t, you should lose, and we did. So we’ll go get better.”

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