Villa Angela-St. Joseph lost its first game of the season, 76-72, to Oak Hill Academy (Va.) at the Spalding Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield, Mass., on Jan. 19.
But make no mistake, the Vikings won everywhere but on the scoreboard during the nationally televised performance on Martin Luther King Day.
VASJ (9-1) gave the No. 2 team in the country all it could handle for 48 minutes on Jan. 19 – sharing the ball, making big plays and earning respect in front of a nationwide TV audience on ESPNU. However, despite a 12-point second-half lead for the Vikings, Florida State recruit Dwayne Bacon’s 20 second-half points led a comeback that overcame the VASJ advantage.
“I couldn’t be more proud, and as far as our effort, I think it was our best game of the year,” VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak said. “Oak Hill is very good. Hopefully people understand that. I don’t think we gave the game away at all, we just played an unbelievably talented basketball team. I thought we represented Cleveland well.”
Bacon – one of several Division I recruits for the Warriors – finished with 33 points and eight rebounds. The USA Today’s No. 2 ranked team erased a longstanding VASJ lead on the way to a 10-2 run and a 61-60 edge in the fourth quarter. Kansas recruit Carlton Bragg was relegated to the bench with four fouls for VASJ, but a dunk for Northwestern recruit Dererk Pardon tied the game at 65 for the Vikings.
Oak Hill (24-1) survived the late VASJ rush at the free-throw line in the final 90 seconds of the game, taking a 72-67 lead with 1:01 remaining. Vikings senior Simon Texidor came up with a late NBA-range 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 73-70, but the Warriors survived.
Bragg finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals, in a performance that Kwasniak called “majestic”.
“I can be a harsh critic, but I thought Carlton was outstanding today,” Kwasniak said.
“There were some things I felt I could have done differently from a coaching perspective in the second half, but I though the game plan for the most part worked well. You can only take away so many options against a team like that.”
Bragg and Pardon (17 points, six rebounds) helped VASJ to a 45-36 halftime lead, but Oak Hill sliced the advantage down to six at the end of three at 59-53.
“I disagree with the notion that we beat ourselves,” Kwasniak said. “Don’t get me wrong, I'm ultra-competitive in anything I do and don’t like losing, but the kids are taking it harder than I am. It just means so much to them. I told the guys I scheduled this game for a reason. People thought I was crazy, but I believe in these kids and I thought we represented our team, our school and our community well today.”
VASJ will come home and have little time to relax as the Vikings prepare for a matchup with North Coast League White Division rival Cleveland Central Catholic on Jan. 23 at home, with a matchup with talented MacDuffie School (Mass.) coming up the next night during the Dunk 4 Diabetes Shootout at Walsh University.