St. Michael’s dominates Robertson in low post, hammers Cardinals, 75-48

February 16, 2019

In the era of the drive-and-kick, the team with the best post play reigns supreme in Class 3A.

St. Michael’s (17-7 overall, 8-0 in 2-3A) isn’t re-inventing the wheel when it comes to how basketball is played, but it understands the concept of playing to its strength. And the Horsemen are at their strongest when they work the ball into the paint and let their plethora of post players do their damage.

St. Michael’s four post players combined for 30 points. Guard Dominic Morgan scored 15 points as the Horsemen dominated the low post in a 75-48 win Friday night over Las Vegas Robertson in Perez-Shelley Gymnasium. Of the 29 baskets the Horsemen hit, only three came from beyond the 3-point arc — a spot from which many teams fire away. Plus, they went 14-for-20 at the free throw line as the Cardinals fell into early foul trouble.

“Because of how deep we are — we can run five [players] in, five out — when we can run our offense, it gets teams tired,” said freshman forward Lucas Coriz, who had six points. “As we keep running our offense, we’ve got fresh legs coming in, so it just helps us.”

David Rodriguez, the second-year head coach at St. Michael’s, said it hasn’t been an easy process to build an offense around getting the ball into post players.

“At times, it has been painful,” Rodriguez said. “But we’ve drilled on it — the different entry passes and breaking down the defense; stretching them out so we can come in low on the bounce pass, then use the ball fake. There is an artwork to it, and a lot of kids don’t grow up passing the ball into the post like they used to.”

The starting point for the offense against Robertson happened with senior Dominic Morgan. The 5-foot-11 guard had the advantage against diminutive Cardinals guards Matthew Gonzales and Dylan Moore, both of whom gave up several inches in the low block. Morgan scored two of the first three baskets for St. Michael’s and had six points in the first 8:15 of the game. His shot off the glass with 7:45 left made it 13-7, Horsemen.

Morgan said he enjoys the attacking style the Horsemen have formed.

“When I drive, and they don’t stop me, I can finish,” Morgan said. “If not, I can kick out to guys who can hit 3s — Jevon, Victor, those guys who are good from the arc. And when we play teams with shorter guards like Robertson [Friday] — they’re tough guards, but they’re just shorter — I can take advantage of that and post them down low.”

Robertson (12-11, 4-4) cut the lead to 13-10 on Nicholas Marrujo’s 3-pointer, but then came a stretch in which the Cardinals failed to score on eight straight possessions. That fueled a 12-0 spurt to give St. Michael’s a 25-10 advantage. The Cardinals turned the ball over five times in that stretch, and it has been a sore point for head coach Manuel Romero.

“They’re killing us,” he said. “That was the story the other night against [Santa Fe] Indian School [a 59-50 loss on Feb. 8]. We just got to find a way to take care of the ball. I don’t want to say we’re young. I mean, we are, but we’re 23 games into the season. That’s no excuse. We have to get back to the basics.”

The Horsemen were models of efficiency. They were 29-for-54 for the game and made three out of six shots from the perimeter. Even though the duo of Jevon Montoya and Victor Otero don’t necessarily carry the scoring load (they both had 10 points against the Cardinals), Rodriguez said they play with more confidence knowing their teammates can pick up the slack.

That wasn’t the case last year, as they both pressed to make things happen. It often disrupted the rhythm of the offense and led to inconsistent performances.

“I think last year, our guards felt the pressure to score,” Rodriguez said. “Some nights, they were, but other nights we couldn’t get any scoring from anywhere. That’s why on some nights, we looked good, and the next game we didn’t.”

There’s no question the Horsemen have been more consistent, especially when the district season began, and they are just two games away from a perfect record, the top seed in the 2-3A tournament and most likely the top seed for the 3A state tournament in March.

Rodriguez hedges on that scenario, knowing that SFIS (13-9, 6-1) awaits St. Michael’s on Feb. 23 in a game that will determine the district’s top spot.

“We just got to keep it going,” Rodriguez said. “Eight [2-3A games] down, and two tough ones to go.”