3 takeaways from St. Mary's payback boys basketball win over Mesquite

Richard Obert
Arizona Republic
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No need for late heroics this time. No dramatic shot at the end. And second-ranked Phoenix St. Mary's got payback with its top player on the bench.

After junior point guard Styles Phipps fouled out with 6:49 to play and host St. Mary's leading by 12, the Knights were able to hold off 4A's top-ranked Gilbert Mesquite for a 62-50 boys basketball victory Tuesday night.

The last two times these teams played each other, they were high-scoring games that went down to the last shot.

In the 4A semifinals last season, Nate Calmese intercepted a pass and swished a halfcourt shot at the buzzer that enabled Mesquite to escape St. Mary's with a 74-73 win that led to the Wildcats' first state championship.

Earlier this month, Mesquite survived the Knights again, winning 88-86, with Phipps missing a shot at the buzzer, after he had scored 46 points.

"I'm proud of them," said Phipps, who had 23 points and seven assists. "Kenny White carried us."

White moved over to lead guard after Phipps fouled out and the Knights ahead 53-41. White's two free throws with 3:25 left gave the Knights a 57-43 lead.

Here are three takeways from a game the Knights needed before heading off to California later this week to take on Santa Ana Mater Dei.

1. Fast start

St. Mary's showed a great sense of urgency to start the game, holding Mesquite to 14% shooting and building a 20-4 lead in the opening quarter. Phipps was more faciliator than scorer. He had four assists in the quarter. The Knights were tough on the boards and didn't let Mesquite get out in transition for easy layups. White had eight points in the quater.

"We've got such a young group," said coach Damin Lopez, whose team improved to 8-3 against Arizona competition to get to .500 at 11-11. "They've got to learn the sense of urgency that it takes to compete in games like this. These are playoff-type games. They have to compete every single possession."

Jan 24, 2023; phoenix, az, usa; St. Mary’s Knights guard Kenny White (3) drives against the Mesquite Wildcats at St. Mary's high school gym in Phoenix, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Alex Gould/The Republic

2. Weathering Mesquite's run

St. Mary's led by as many as 20 points in the second quarter before settling on a 16-point lead. But Mesquite (17-7) got on a roll in the third quarter to close to within 40-34 on point guard CohenJ Gonzales' 3-pointer with 3:22 to go.

Phipps got his team back on track. He hit a tough jumper in the lane, sank two free throws with 1:34 left, then as the thid quarter was about to expire, despite picking up his fourth foul earlier, Phipps got a shot off behind the arc as he was fouled. He hit all three free throws to extend St. Mary's lead to 47-38.

The key to holding off Mesquite the rest of the way was making it difficult for Gonzales to find open looks. He finished with 19 points after going scoreless in the first quarter. Gonzales scored 37 points on 13 of 23 shooting in the earlier win this month.

"They score in bunches and quick," Lopez said. "For us to be in front of them as much as we could, the shots they made, I felt were tough shots. Gonzales probably hit one open 3. Other than that, we were contesting. That's all I told him. The kid is going to get 30, he's that good. It's how he gets to 30 is what matters to us."

3. No panic with Phipps out

The Knights showed composure without Phipps in the late stages, but Lopez was sweating it out.

"There was definitely some panic on my end," Lopez said. "For Kenny to make a couple of plays and take care of the ball... It wasn't just him. There were also a couple of other people who stepped up as well when Styles went out. We feel very fortunate with this win. Mesquite is a great team."

Seydou Tamboura, a 6-foot-7 senior, showed toughness on the boards for St. Mary's. And sophomiore guard A.J. Mauandumba knocked down a big shot with 1:18 to play for the Knights.

St. Mary's, which solidifed a spot in the 32-team Open Division state tournament, will feel even better with the return of 6-7 sophomore foward Caspian Jones, who has been out since December with an injury. Jones is expected back before the state tournament begins.

"Once he gets back, it's going to be a different ballgame," Phipps said.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at[email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter@azc_obert

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