PIEDMONT — With five of their six losses coming by four points or fewer, including three overtime games, St. Joseph Notre Dame was glad to win a close one on Saturday, no matter how it came about.
A visually unappealing 31-30 win over Las Lomas, in which neither team scored for the first 5:48 of the game and in which the two teams combined for just nine points in the fourth quarter, gave the Pilots a chance to hone their skills in tight contests, even if it was a game that set the sport back 40 years.
Julian Vaughns, who hit late 3-pointers to force OT in all three of SJND’s overtime losses, found himself once again in the spotlight on Saturday afternoon at the 14th Piedmont Martin Luther King Jr. Classic, hitting two free throws to give the Pilots the lead with 14.1 seconds left. A block by Adam Campos with 0.7 left left Las Lomas (9-9) with one last desperation shot, and though head coach Jason Rockwell did manage to draw up a play to get a 3-pointer from the corner, the shot was off the mark to give the Pilots just their second single-digit win of the year.
Typically a prolific scorer who takes over games in the second half, Vaughns scored just six points but was able to come through in the clutch, this time for the win instead of to send a game to an extra period.
“It feels good,” Vaughns said. “Hopefully these are the sort of wins that will push us to the playoffs.”
The Pilots are by far the biggest fish in the small pond that is the BCL East, so games like these are especially valuable for a team that sees its best competition in nonleague play.
“We’re just a little bit away from what we want,” head coach Don Lippi said. “I know what we need to do to get there, and our defense was there today.”
St. Joseph Notre Dame (12-6) got nine points from Eric Greer, all in the second quarter. The Pilots scored more than half of their points over those eight minutes as they outscored LL 19-7 to take a 21-15 halftime lead after only scoring once in the first quarter on a baseline jumper by Campos with a minute left in the period.
Campos also came up with the huge block at the end of the game and showed tremendous court vision in the middle of the zone.
“I see the whole court, so I can tell everyone where to go,” Campos said. “If I see somebody cutting, that’s my responsibility.”
That zone defense is something that Rockwell, a SJND alum who played under Lippi, is extremely familiar with, and though his team struggled to score, it provided valuable experience against a top opponent that provided a deviation from the teams the Knights see in a loaded DAL Foothill Division.
“It’s great to mix things up, learn that there’s more than one way to play basketball and see these things at a high level,” Rockwell said. “The zone that they preach is designed to take the shooters away and promotes more driving scenarios.”
There were moments in which the Las Lomas shooters did get open, as Gordy Lindsay scored a game-high 13 points and J.T. Estes hit a pair of threes in the first quarter, including the first basket of the game after nearly six minutes. The Knights played without starting guard Niko Kieffer, who is day-to-day with an injured back.
Piedmont 67, Sacred Heart Prep 44
After going into halftime tied at 31, the host Highlanders allowed just 13 points in the second half and used a 23-9 third quarter to take control of the finale of the four-game showcase. Piedmont (13-5) got 12 points apiece from Luke Barrett and Luke Harris, while 6-foot-6 senior Jordan Hunt added nine. Brendan Carney hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 24 for Sacred Heart Prep (8-8), while Jai Deshpande added nine for the Gators.