SMYRNA – Smyrna turned on the defense in the first quarter.
Then the Eagles turned on the offense in the second quarter.
It was too much for Salesianum, as sixth-ranked Smyrna zoomed to a 17-point halftime lead and cruised to a 53-40 victory over the 10th-ranked Sals in a nonconference basketball game on Tuesday night.
“It was a credit to our guys, just trying to play our game,” Eagles coach Andrew Mears said. “They know what we expect offensively, and defensively, that’s where we’re going to hang our hat. That’s where it starts for us, and I thought we established that early.”
Smyrna played lockdown ‘D’ early, holding Sallies to 2 of 11 from the field in the opening period. The Eagles didn’t shoot that well either (3 of 14), but still led 9-5.
Smyrna (8-2) started to hit more shots in the second quarter, while still keeping the Sals (5-4) off the board. Azubuike Nwankwo, the Eagles’ 7-foot junior center, started an 11-0 run with a tip-in. Then Caleb Matthews hit two 3-pointers and Dymer’e Richardson splashed another for a 23-8 lead with 2:46 left in the half.
“I think they played pretty good defensively,” said Matthews, who hit five 3-pointers on the night and led all scorers with 23 points. “But when we move the ball like that, I don’t see anybody being able to stop us.”
Salesianum, which has lost four of its last five games, trailed 30-13 at the half after hitting just 5 of 27 (18.5 percent) from the floor.
“The game has to be played with passion, and we’re just disappointed that we didn’t bring more passion,” Sals coach Brendan Haley said. “We have some gifted kids, some great kids. We’ve got to do a little more with using our gifts more fully.”
Smyrna’s lead reached 40-18 when Iyair Hinson-Purnell converted a Matthews assist with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
Sallies tried to get back in it by trapping on defense and pressing the pace in the final period. Jumpers by Michael Kempski and Duncan Trerotola and two foul shots by Tariq Ingraham pulled the Sals within 40-27 with 6:07 to play.
“Second half, we at least played the game hard,” Haley said. “We tried a little harder, and we’ll try to take something from that.”
But the Eagles quickly made their cushion comfortable again. Matthews drove for a layup, Nwankwo hit a reverse layup and Matthews dropped his final 3 of the night to make it 47-27.
Nwankwo dominated the boards, finishing with 10 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks as the Eagles piled up a 46-29 advantage on the glass. Trerotola led the Sals with eight points.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.