“Resilient” is how Cardinal Ritter coach Ryan Johnson describes his crew these last few weeks.
For the second game in a row the Lions found themselves down at half.
The 16-7 Cardinal Ritter Lions displayed what it means to grind for a win. Led by Mario Fleming’s 22 points, 8 rebounds, the Lions nudged past the 11-12 Dragons of St. Mary’s.
SLU fans saw flashes of why the Billikens are thrilled to have St. Mary’s point guard Yuri Collins staying close to home. Collins’ speedy transition game kept an upbeat pace to the first half which took Ritter time to adjust to. The fast tempo helped the Dragons take a slight edge early on.
A late surge in the first lead by Collins, including a forced turnover and a flashy behind the back pass that lead to a big 3 from senior guard Donavan Parker, put St. Mary’s up at half.
Neither team allowed easy buckets all night, yet Ritter’s resilient spirit helped to convert on second and third chances far more often than their south side catholic rival.
They were hungry for a win.
“I told them it doesn’t matter how the game starts or how these last weeks have been, champions find ways to win,” said Johnson.
And find ways they did.
The Lions were having a tough time getting shots from outside to fall but made adjustments at half and came back attacking the basket. Flemings showed sparks of top speed, vision, and agility and had the talent around him to make plays happen. Senior guard Malek Davis went off for 15 points and junior forward Brandon Ellington had 10 of his own.
Ritter found themselves in foul trouble late, including a late tech to Flemings.
“Right now it’s a little bit of lack of focus,” said Coach Johnson. “That tends to happen in a long season but the fact that they were able to refocus and get back on track that says a lot about the group.”
Collins is not the type of player opposing teams want shooting easy baskets, but the Lions’ lack of focus sent him to the line for 10 shots, converting on 8. Yuri would finish with the game’s second most points at 21.
The biggest lead of the night was in the final minute with Cardinal Ritter finishing with 67 and St. Mary’s falling behind with 58.