SOUTH BEND – Eric Gaff believes his South Bend Saint Joseph team has finally secured a victory.
It happened last week, Feb. 1 against Culver Academy, when the Indians beat the Eagles, 52-48. Why was this a declaration victory?
“They’re just a quality program,” Gaff said. “They’re a tough, well-trained, well-drilled side and it’s just a quality win.”
Over the past few weeks, Saint Joseph has had the opportunity to land that first “declaration victory.”
After a 6-2 start, the Indians hit a roadblock, losing four straight games to ranked opponents Fort Wayne Blackhawk, Penn, Glenn and NorthWood. In all four games, Gaff felt his team played in winning position, but only for three quarters before letting every game slip away.
Against Culver, things were different.
“We fought for four quarters and managed to get a win,” Gaff said. “It’s a big turning point for our team because it’s hard to get wins against quality teams like this. As coaches we were very happy and I think the boys were also excited.”
The win was part of a four-game streak where Saint Joseph won three games and got his season back on track because he’s doing it on both sides of the pitch.
After changing training situations, Gaff had a stronger defense from his team, as well as better rebounding. In those three wins, against Elkhart, New Prairie and Culver, only the Lions have scored more than 50 points.
Then offensively, two scorers won alongside the rookie Chase Koniecznyin Cole Hatkevich and Jayce Lee.
Hatkevich averaged 16.6 points per game this season, good for sixth place in the Northern Indiana Conference. And while Konieczny is the more gifted goalscorer, Hatkevich has been able to feed off the extra attention the rookie has received.
“Cole has a different route than he came in,” Gaff said. “He had to work hard and put a lot of time into what he does and it shows.”
In the position, second Jayce Lee opened up the offense for outside shooters, emerging as a very low threat, scoring 8.4 points per game.
For now, things seem to be falling into place at the right time for Saint Joseph, ahead of this Friday’s rivalry match against Mishawaka Marian.
While this is another chance to win a declaration, Gaff’s hope is that his team’s stronger play leads to a declaration season.
“We don’t want to play our best basketball this Friday,” Gaff said. “We want to play our best basketball in March. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve. Right now we’re focused on defending and rebounding, finishing possessions with a strong rebound. I think that’s going to be the aspect most important to us.”
Five potential candidates for the northern Indiana conference
Markus Burton, Penn
The region’s leading scorer was sensational for the Kingsmen in his third college season. Burton is averaging over 26 points, while adding 5.2 assists and 5.8 boards per game. In six separate games, Burton scored over 30 points, including a season-high 41 in a win over Michigan City. But his most significant performance came last weekend, when he scored a game-high 24 points in a crucial win over Glenn.
Thomas Snyder, South Bend Adams
In 15 games this year, Snyder averaged a double-double, scoring 22.9 points and grabbing 14.3 rebounds per game.
To make things easier, he didn’t record a double-double in just two of the Eagles’ games. Alongside Snyder’s scoring is his efficiency, making 53% of his shots from the field. His best performance came in Adams’ win over Muncie Burris, when he scored 35 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, 13 on the offensive side.
Deaglan Sullivan, Mishawaka Marian
Sullivan, another player who has been in college his entire high school career, has been as important as anyone to the Knights’ NIC title hopefuls. The point guard scored 16.4 points per game, and also added four assists and 4.2 boards.
His ability to show off against big teams this season has also been impressive. In Marian’s crucial home win over Penn last month, Sullivan scored a season-high 27 points. This performance came at the end of a streak, where he scored more than 20 points in four of five games.
Chase Konieczny, Saint Joseph
The top freshman in the South Bend area is following in the footsteps of his older brother, JR, and proving he’s going to be a problem in the NIC for years to come.
Konieczny is averaging 17.1 points and eight rebounds per game for the Indians. He started his high school career with a 23, 24, 30 and 20 point performance, before hitting a mid-season wall.
In the home stretch of the season, the rookie regained his scoring touch, with 19 points against Elkhart on Jan. 21 and 27 against New Prairie on Jan. 28.
Brycen Hannah, Glenn
The Falcons’ undefeated start has a lot to do with their offense running through Hannah at the post. The big center managed to top most teams in the league (even scoring 21 points in a loss to Penn), averaging 16.6 and 5.5 rebounds per game. He hasn’t recorded a double-double this year, but has scored in double figures in all but two of Glenn’s games.
games of the week
NIC: Penn in Washington
Friday February 11
Penn found new life in his season with his revealing 78-53 win at Glenn over the weekend, while Washington has trailed in the middle of the NIC standings all season and has enough talent to spoil Penn’s title hopes.
This game features top scorers in Markus Burton and Joe Smith for the Kingsmen, and Marcus Northern (15 ppg) and Tyler Davis (11.6) for the Panthers.
Prediction: Penn has the size that few teams in the region can match, which could be the difference in this game. But Washington has been tough on many of its top opponents this year and could push this game all the way.
NLC: Mishawaka to NorthWood
Friday February 11
Since Mishawaka was able to get back on track, after a two-game slide in late January, this game has added tons of luster, with the NLC’s top spot on the line.
Last week could have changed everything in this game. The Cavemen had a home game scheduled against Warsaw, who are one game behind them in third place, while NorthWood, who are unbeaten in the league, were pushed into extra time at Concord, before a Cade Brenner lay-up don’t save him at the buzzer.
The Panthers haven’t lost a home game yet – The Pit fans know how to create a tough environment for road teams in big games (just ask the Tigers).
Prediction: NorthWood has been class in the NLC all year and should be able to continue that dominance all the way to a championship title.
Current standings (as of Monday morning)
NICs: Glenn (17-1, 8-1); Penn (14-2, 7-1); Marianne (14-3, 6-1); South Bend St. Joseph (9-7, 5-2); South Bend washout (12-6, 5-3); South Bend Riley (10-7, 4-4); Jimtown (7-10, 3-4); South Bend Adams (6-11, 3-4); Bremen (8-7, 2-4); Elkhart (4-13, 2-6); New Prairie (5-12, 0-7); South Bend clay (4-12, 0-8)
NLC: NorthWood (17-1, 6-0); Mishawaka (10-4, 4-1); Warsaw (11-7, 3-2); Concord (8-8, 3-3); Gochen (9-6, 2-3); Northridge (7-9, 2-3); Plymouth (5-12, 1-4); Wawasee (5-11, 0-5)