It may not carry the energy or excitement of Allen Fieldhouse or Cameron Indoor Stadium, but Sacred Heart’s gym is — no pun intended — sacred ground for the Gremlins.
The Gremlins haven’t lost at home since Jan. 2, 2010, and the streak hit the 20-game mark on Thursday night.
Stefan Cox scored 20 points, Lakin Kehde dished out seven assists and Class 2’s ninth-ranked Gremlins shot 51 percent from the floor en route to an 85-55 win over St. Mary’s in the Sacred Heart tournament.
Asked about the dominance at home, 14th-year Gremlins head coach Steve Goodwin said, “We try. We have a great fan base and it’s kind of a tradition where everybody’s here to support us and the younger kids grow up watching the older kids succeed, and they want to be there one day.”
It helps to have a tradition highlighted by seven district titles (including four straight), five Kaysinger Conference regular-season titles and four conference tournament crowns in the last 13 years, and based on their play on Thursday, the Gremlins (2-0) could be in line to add to the trophy case.
And like past years, the stat line on Thursday was split between a slew of standouts in the share-the-wealth system.
Joining Cox in double figures in the scoring column were Caleb Morrison (16), Clint Spangler (12, which drew the praise of Goodwin) and Kehde and Dey (10), who also added a team-high three blocks. On the glass, Garrett Strange hauled in a team-high eight rebounds.
A near-perfect first quarter
The tone for the running-clock victory was set with a 35-point first quarter.
While former Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson was made famous for having the “fastest 40 minutes in basketball,” Goodwin’s crew should trademark the “fastest 32 minutes in basketball.”
Employing a full-court press and creating turnovers, the Gremlins spread the court and attacked the basket at will.
The Trojans never found a way to corral the high-octane offense, which shot 14 of 18 from the floor, 5 of 7 from the charity strip and 2 of 5 from beyond the arc in the opening eight minutes of play to build a 35-16 lead.
The bulk of the scoring came from Cox, who went off for 14 points in the frame. The sophomore, coming off a 19-point effort in the opening win against Marshall, was 6 of 7 from the floor and ended the night 8 of 12 — including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc to give him six treys on the season — in limited action.
“Stefan was on fire. He hit his shots and the pressure was good and everybody was into it,” Goodwin said of the first-quarter play.
Asked about his play, Cox said, “I tried to be aggressive. It was just a good team effort and we hustled on defense, which helped out the fast break.”
Sharing the spotlight was 2011 Democrat Boys Basketball Player of the Year Morrison, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the frame, and Lakin Kehde, who dished out four first-quarter assists, including one that’d easily make SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.
Kehde, who averaged seven-plus assists last season, took his affinity for the no-look pass a step further in the opening quarter.
Ahead 6-0, the 5-7 senior point guard gathered in a long rebound and was immediately suffocated by St. Mary’s defender Bobby Brock.
Then, having the wherewithal to sense a wide-open Morrison streaking to the basket, Kehde threw a two-handed, over-the-shoulder no-look pass to Morrison, who converted the gift into a layup.
“I just got the ball and the kid was doing a good job of D’ing me up and I saw Caleb out of the corner of my eye and just threw it up and he was there,” said Kehde, who’s also an all-state soccer player.
Asked about his point guard, Morrison didn’t hold back.
“I love Lakin,” said Morrison, who is averaging 20 points on the season.
Kehde wasn’t done with the spotlight just yet, though.
Capping off a dominant half, the senior hit a running, one-handed 3-pointer from the top of the key to beat the buzzer and send the Gremlins into the locker room ahead 57-36.
“We’ve been working on his shot all year and he has the ability to knock down shots. I was really happy with the way he played tonight,” Goodwin said.
While they shined in the half-court set, hitting 7 of 14 treys on the game, the Gremlins’ best offense was their defense.
That was most evident as seven Gremlins had more than one steal for a defense that created 29 turnovers.
Chase Lyles led the thievery, amassing six steals and in turn, dishing out five assists.
“Chase passes the ball really well and gets his teammates involved,” Goodwin said. “He was really active tonight.”
Strange added four steals; Dey and Kehde had three steals apiece; and Blake Nichols, Dey, Cox and Morrison chipped in two steals each.
Emptying the bench
With their starters sitting the majority of the second half, Sacred Heart’s bench rose to the occasion and kept the lead at bay.
While the Gremlins piled up the turnovers (nine in the second half), they made up for the giveaways by shooting 12 of 22 from the floor in the final 16 minutes of play. Aided by the running clock, the Gremlins built the lead to as many as 36.
The Trojans, who received a team-high 18 points from Michael Thomason, 11 from Sam Kenney and 10 from Wade Johnson, fell to 0-2 on the season.