If defense wins championships, Salesianum looked like a championship-caliber team on Saturday.
The top-ranked Sals quickly took all the suspense out of a highly anticipated matchup, holding fifth-ranked Concord to two points in the second quarter and cruising to a 50-33 victory before a sellout crowd at Concord.
“Most coaches tell their kids [defense] can be a constant,” Salesianum coach Brendan Haley said. “You don’t always know when the ball isn’t dropping or when a team finds a way to shut you down, but you can take care of the other end. We don’t always do that, but today we did.”
A 15-foot jumper by Noah Rivera pulled the Raiders within 13-11 with 1:41 left in the first quarter. Then the Sals went into lockdown mode.
Sallies (15-2) scored the last two buckets of the first quarter – on offensive rebounds by 6-foot-9 J.T. Harrar and 6-7 Brian O’Neill – then ripped off the first 13 points of the second. Shane Clark led the surge with three straight scores on a 3-pointer, an offensive rebound and a driving layup.
Concord went 9:40 without a field goal, and the Sals were one second from pitching a shutout for the quarter when the Raiders’ Charles Morgan tipped in a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer. Sallies led 30-13 at the half.
The Raiders (13-5) could get no closer than 14 in the second half. Concord shot only 12 of 46 from the field (26.1 percent), including 2 of 21 from 3-point range. Joe Cooper scored 10 for the Raiders, whose previous season low had been 48 points.
“We knew coming in that they had strong guard play and they were pretty big, too,” said O’Neill, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. “This was a good win.”
Donte DiVincenzo added 12 points for the Sals. Senior Joe McCusker continued to round into form after missing time with an ankle injury, hitting three 3-pointers on his way to 11 points.
“We worked the ball really well today,” McCusker said. “I just hit open shots; I didn’t do anything that great. Donte is a great distributor.”
It was the third win in four days for Salesianum, which scored a 47-35 victory at A.I. du Pont on Wednesday and shut down No. 7 Mount Pleasant 56-42 at home on Thursday.
“I think we’re getting better,” O’Neill said. “This entire week, we got better every day. … That’s basically what the goal is, to get better every day and keep going up.”