St. Francis shakes off rust to rout Sycamore
Defense, rebounding, ball movement.
It took a bit to add the scoring, but once it did St. Francis was gone.
After more than four scoreless minutes to start the boys basketball game, St. Francis had its way, beating Sycamore 55-23 in Wednesday's Class 3A Burlington Central regional semifinal. No. 5 seed St. Francis faces No. 1 Burlington Central in Friday's regional final.
"We didn't play for 12 days and we had half our team go on a religious retreat last week, so I knew there'd be a little of that, too," St. Francis coach Erin Dwyer said of the early rust. "But defense is their most consistent part of their game, so I thought we did a good job defensively."
St. Francis (19-13) didn't allow No. 3 Sycamore a first-quarter field goal and gave up only 8 baskets on the night. The Wheaton team's man-to-man scheme forced 1-of-15 3-point shooting, and behind 6-foot-8 Bryce Walker and 6-4 Robert Nocek outrebounded Sycamore 37-14.
Sycamore (21-10) had only Xavier Gagnepain's two first-quarter free throws until senior Grant McConkey drilled his team's sole 3 from the left wing at 7:12 of the second quarter to trim St. Francis' lead to 12-5.
"We started off doing fine on defense," said McConkey, who scored a team-high 9 points. "Then I feel like eventually with us not being able to score it kind of drove our defense down a little bit. They kept getting a lot of shots because we couldn't really score anything or get any momentum going. Eventually we just kind of broke down."
St. Francis sophomore guard Brendan Yarusso took advantage. Over about a 90-second span in the second quarter he swished three straight 3s to spread the lead to 23-7. St. Francis led 25-9 at halftime after Sebastian Miller scored a third-chance basket.
"It's always fun to be hot like that," Yarusso said. "My teammates got me open and I was just lucky I made my shots today, that's all I can say."
Yarusso totaled five 3s, led St. Francis with 17 points and threw two inbounds baseball passes to Nocek for press-breaking, two-handed dunks.
"When they take what the defense gives them they play well together," Dwyer said. "Then it's just kind of sit back and enjoy and watch them play."
Despite a solid effort by Sycamore 6-5 senior Jackson Johnson, who scored 8 points, St. Francis led 36-15 after three quarters. Eric Welch's jumper made it 45-15 at 5:58 of the fourth quarter to institute a running clock.
"They kind of forced us to be more perimeter oriented and we weren't able to get the ball inside," said Sycamore coach Andrew Stacy.
"Obviously, they have a 6-8 kid and a 6-4 kid inside. We were trying to do some things to get them away from the basket, but they kind of sagged off and we really couldn't get the ball where we wanted to effectively. Just a little too tentative offensively," he said.
St. Francis made 22 of 45 field goals, Yarusso shooting 6 of 10 and Nocek 7 of 9. The senior forward also collected 12 rebounds then spoke with four college coaches after the game.
And like Dwyer said, he emphasized defense.
"Defensively, we did really good, just like, they're not getting a shot off," Nocek said. "One of the possessions early in the game was like two minutes long, so that really helped."