Ursuline falters in 4th against deep SVSM

CANTON – There were several factors Ursuline basketball coach Keith Gunther knew had to go in his team’s favor for the Irish to upset Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a Division II Canton Regional semifinal.

Considering none of them were going Ursuline’s way, it was a bit shocking the Irish from Youngstown took a brief one-point lead late in the third quarter. But there was one more factor Gunther’s Irish had to overcome, and it caught up to Ursuline in the final quarter.

SVSM’s deep bench sparked a pivotal fourth-quarter run and allowed the Irish from Akron to pull away for a 67-52 victory at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.

The relentless press defense of SVSM caused 25 Ursuline turnovers, including seven in the all-important fourth quarter. Ursuline (19-8) took a 35-34 lead with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter, and while SVSM responded and led 38-35 entering the final 8 minutes, the game appeared to be destined for a last-minute finish.

“The energy level that they had at the end of the game was a lot greater than what we had,” Gunther said. “When you’re fresher, you can do a lot more things.”

The depth of SVSM began to wear on Ursuline, as Akron’s Irish made four steals in the first 3 minutes of the fourth and turned them into easy lay-ups on the other end. SVSM pushed its lead to double digits within the first three minutes and finished on an 18-4 run.

No one felt the wear and tear of the full-court press more than Ursuline’s Greg Parella and Mike Hughes. The two guards were the primary ball-handlers for Ursuline, and after trying to find cracks and windows in the press for three quarters, the exhaustion finally caught up to them.

“When they made that run, me and Mikey were really tired,” said Parella, who scored a game-high 22 points. “They had more guys coming off the bench to press us, and it killed us.

“They have great pressure defense, and when you have their depth on the bench, it’s tough.”

The press caused problems from the start, but Ursuline’s rebounding and defense kept it in the game. Parella and Hughes carried the offense, scoring 19 of the team’s 21 first-half points. SVSM, on the other hand, had six players score in the first half. Still, the flow of the game was slow and stagnant, which was exactly what Gunther wanted.

“The first half, we played slow, we were running the clock, we were moving the ball and the game was where we needed it to be – a low-scoring game,” he said. “Then we panicked. We got out of our wits, we tried playing a fast-paced game and we started turning the ball over. Granted, their pressure caused some turnovers, there’s no doubt about that, but I thought if we played smarter offensively and moved the ball, we would’ve had a better chance.”

The biggest problem for Ursuline was bringing the ball up court. SVSM’s speed and athleticism allowed it to continuously poke the ball way and create fast-break opportunities. The players cashing in on those were usually Jayvon Graves, a Division I recruit who scored 21, and Henry Baddley, a Butler-bound forward who added 16 points and nine rebounds, including a ridiculous put-back dunk where it seemed Baddley came out of nowhere.

“We got comfortable when we were up one, and they got a lot of fast-break points because we were turning the ball over,” Parella said. “They’re a great transition team, and they’re a great defensive team.”

SVSM now plays Cleveland Benedictine in a regional final Saturday back at the Civic Center. The time has not yet been announced. Benedictine beat Perry, 67-54, in the other semifinal.

Ursuline looks toward next year, which could be another promising season. Despite the losses of Parella, the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,398 points, and fellow starter Devin Harden, the Irish have a lot of talent and experience returning. Gunther didn’t want to look ahead. He was too proud of what this year’s team accomplished.

“It was an unbelievable season,” he said. “We lost our top two leading scorers and our best defender from a year ago. For us to lose those guys, move up to Division II and win the district, it was a great achievement for us.”