MOWEAQUA — The St. Teresa boys basketball team is perhaps dealing with some football jet lag.
The Bulldogs still didn't let that affect them too much on Monday.
After falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, St. Teresa surged to an impressive 65-54 victory over Meridian in the first round of the Macon County Tournament. They next play host Central A&M at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Bulldogs only mustered a couple of practices and one game together as an entire unit going into the tournament after the football program raced to the Class 1A title game in late November.
Just as they showed on Monday, St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan is confident his team is strong enough to rise above the challenge.
“I think we have a lot of pieces,” Noonan said. “We just have to figure out how to play with each other and understand what our strengths and weaknesses are.”
St. Teresa (2-1) trailed 15-6 by the end of the first quarter after missing its first six shot attempts.
The Bulldogs then started the second quarter on a 10-1 run and led 21-18 by halftime. They stayed in command the rest of the night with Isaiah Bond's defense and Beau Branyan's rebounding.
Branyan, a junior center, started to assert his presence in the paint in the second half and extended the lead 33-26 midway through the third quarter with one of his several putback baskets.
After taking no shots in the first half, Branyan was automatic inside and converted seven consecutive field goals in the second half. He finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
It was a welcome sight after Branyan missed last season with a broken ankle.
“Beau's a guy who just needs reps,” Noonan said. “I thought he's been moving up the floor well. He needs to get reps catching the ball and facing up. I was real pleased with some of the moves he made in the second half. It's nice to have him back on the floor. “
Bond, a junior guard, spearheaded the tenacious defense and often capitalized offensively because of it. He started the fourth quarter with a couple of steals and ultimately upended Meridian's chances for a comeback.
Bond also helped move the ball around offensively and led the Bulldogs with 21 points.
“Of course it was a little frustrating that shots couldn't fall in the first quarter,” Bond said. “But coach kept saying move the ball and run the offense, it will get there.”
In what was a close game most of the night, St. Teresa ran away to a 53-36 lead with 3:31 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I was really pleased,” Noonan said. “We've only had two practices with all of our guys. I thought the adjustments as the game went on, I was really pleased with. Defensively, we did a better job of getting to the shooters in the middle portion of the game, and I thought our rebounding really stepped it up in the second half."
Meridian senior Layne Kircher immediately fired away and scored nearly half of the team's points in the first quarter.
Meridian's offense quickly faded in the second quarter and didn't reappear until it was too late.
The Hawks (4-5) were outscored 15-3 and shot 1 of 9 in the second quarter.
Kircher still had an exceptional night with 27 points and six 3-pointers.
“We started off hot,” Kircher said. “We came out with intensity and we were ready to play. Then the second quarter came, we stopped looking for our shots and they got hot from 3. We only had three points in the second quarter. That really hurt us there.”
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Central A&M 52, Cerro Gordo-Bement 41
The tournament's first game was littered with turnovers.
Central A&M actually totaled 15 of them after having just five in a narrow 52-51 victory over Pana on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
The difference-maker was Central A&M junior guard Jameson Smith.
After leading just 25-18 at halftime, Smith ignited with four 3s in the third quarter and finished with 24 points to carry the Raiders to the second round.
“We were real fortunate he was making shots because I didn't think we played particularly well tonight,” Central A&M coach Rob Smith said. “I thought we played hard, but not very smart defensively.
"But their kids played well and did some things that hurt us.”
Junior forward Will Wittmer paced Cerro Gordo with 10 points.
“Tonight we had two guys with more than five turnovers,” coach Smith said. “We've got to clean that up.”
Giving time for rest
Noonan didn't rush his players in the season opener against Champaign St. Thomas More.
In fact, he rested about eight of his players due to the football overlap. St. Teresa lost 72-56.
“There's no good way to go about it,” Noonan said. “I don't think there's any good way to go about it. You can either force them back in it when they're not ready or you can give them time off and they're itching to go. We're hoping this helps us more in January than in December.”
St. Teresa initially started the game in man-to-man defense.
Then it switched to full-court pressure and zone defense.
That seemed to do the trick.
“I definitely feel like right now we might be a little better team in the zone,” Bond said. “But, we'll get there in man-to-man.”
“It was rough. After the first quarter, we kind of lost the intensity. I think that's what lost us the game. We've got the pieces. We've just got to play to our ability. We're playing not to lose. We have to play to win.” Kircher