COLUMBIA — Despite a Sunday morning tip-off, a different shooting background, a longer court and a tough Class 3 team facing them, the Sacred Heart Gremlins were unfazed as they beat Versailles 87-50 in the MFA Oil/ Breaktime Shootout at Mizzou Arena.
“It’s exciting to play in an arena like this,” said Stefan Cox. “We knew how we wanted to play, so we just came out with good energy and things were going good.”
It was the Gremlins’ second game in eight days on a college court, having beaten Santa Fe 95-39 at the W-K Shootout on Jan. 18 at State Fair.
“(Playing at) State Fair helps a little bit,” Cox said. “They’ve got the same goalposts, same size floor, the only thing is that the backdrop’s a little different, but I think it works to our advantage.”
To get used to that backdrop, the Gremlins had a walkthrough on Saturday at Mizzou Arena and coach Steve Goodwin said all of his players came out of that session focused. On Sunday the Gremlins missed their first shot from the field, but hit the next three and never looked back. Both teams attempted 3-pointers, often ever stepping back to take them from the NCAA range, but while Versailles struggled Sacred Heart kept connecting.
“When you’re in that zone, you feel like nobody can touch you,” said Chase Lyles. “We get there. When you’re feeling it, you feel like you can take any shot.”
The Gremlins connected on six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone and shot 14 of 21 from long range in the game. Overall, Sacred Heart shot 33 of 57 from the field in the game (58 percent).
“Good shot selection, great ball movement and the kids were just hot,” Goodwin said. “All of them were hot and that’s what you hope for in a big ballgame and I was really happy with the way we shot the ball.”
Defensively, the Gremlins forced 20 turnovers in the game and held Versailles to 16 of 42 shooting. Versailles junior guard Trey Woods entered the day averaging 20.2 points per game and scored 17 points on Sunday.
“We extended the press a little bit and we just made sure they didn’t get by us,” Lyles said. “If you stop (Woods) you pretty much stop the rest of the team.”
Sacred Heart scored 11 points in the first two minutes of the game and shot 11 for 17 from the field in the first quarter. At one point the Gremlins led 30-2 as the Tigers opened the game shooting 0 for 8 from the field with seven turnovers. After a Garret Strange basket off an offensive rebound and 3-pointers from Keyaire Marshall, Cox and Lyles, Lyles was able to drive the lane for another basket. He then got a steal and a 3-point play to make it 18-2 and followed that up with two more 3-pointers to make it 26-2.
Versailles closed the first quarter on a 7-3 run and Sacred Heart’s shooting cooled off in the second quarter while Versailles was able to get into its offense more. Strange hit a basket inside and Cox added another 3-pointer while the Tigers responded with a 4-point play from Ryan Surface. Late in the quarter both teams worked the ball into the paint with Sacred Heart getting baskets from Clint Spangler and Charlie Wendt and Versailles getting a basket from Michael Allen.
The Gremlins held a 48-23 edge at halftime and by the end of the third quarter, they had extended that lead to 76-39 thanks in part to back-to-back 3-pointers from Lyles. Kolin Brace closed the quarter with a 3-pointer. The final two 3-pointers of the night came in the fourth quarter from Will Prenger.
Cox scored 22 points in the game to earn MVP honors. Lyles scored 20 points and Strange added 10 points.
The Gremlins will open the Slater Tournament on Monday.