Donte DiVincenzo scored 21 of his 28 points in the first half and Salesianum held off a late charge to defeat visiting St. Elizabeth 66-58 in a Catholic Conference basketball game Friday night.
In the process, the defending state champion and No. 8-ranked Sals (4-5) won their third straight game. With a victory over the No. 4 Vikings, they also let it be known that they’ll be all right after a 1-5 start to the season.
“We’ve earned [our record],” said coach Brendan Haley. “I mean, we haven’t played great. It hasn’t all been about the [rugged] schedule. We showed tonight there are things we still have to work on. But, we also know we’ve got a lot of talent, and Donte is a special player. He had a rough finish tonight that he knows he’s got to complete games better. But he was obviously in the first half just unstoppable.”
St. Elizabeth (7-2) rode a seven-game win streak into the game and looked to build on a promising ending to last season. Michael Piekarski (18 points) and Malik Curry (14) each scored a half dozen in the first quarter a the Vikings led 13-11.
That turned quickly in the second quarter when fouls and substitutions dictated DiVincenzo open up.
“I’m sorry,” said senior guard Shane Clark, “but you put one of your not top players on the best player in the state, he’s going to take advantage of it. The coach told us, ‘Give him the ball’ and let him do his work.”
The 6-foot-4 senior swingman hit his first five shots of the second quarter and all four free throws in a 15-point explosion. He closed with a dish to freshman big man Paul Brown, and the Sals held a 34-26 halftime lead.
“Their best players were in foul trouble,” said DiVincenzo. “They had to switch up with their defense, and I saw that as a mismatch and I just took advantage of it, knowing I could get past them.”
DiVincenzo, averaging over 22 points and Villanova-bound, knew that St. Elizabeth still had a run in it. After Clark opened with seven straight Salesianum points and the lead grew to 16 points, the Vikings’ pressure – full-court, halfcourt – began to take a toll.
“Pressure really helped us,” St. E coach Dick Rago said. “Actually, I was a little bit doubtful that we would be able to press them because of Donte and they’re good ballhandlers. I’m sure the next time they’ll be ready for the press.”
With Sallies turnovers starting to mount and sophomore Jordan Money, who entered averaging 18.6 points, heating up, St. E made its run. Money’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 61-56 with 1:52 to play, and the Vikings seemed to be in business as Sallies’ Mike Kempski (10 points, all in the second half) got trapped against the press. One official signaled the guard had traveled; another overruled and said he had been fouled. Kempski hit one of two free throws and, even with DiVincenzo missing on two questionable drives to the basket, Salesianum held on and nailed down a calling-card win.
SALESIANUM 66, ST. ELIZABETH 58
St. Elizabeth 13 13 16 16 – 58
Salesianum 11 23 20 12 – 66
ST. ELIZABETH (58) – Piekarski 6 6-6 18, Sorrell 1 1-2 3, Miles 1 0-0 3, Cropper 1 0-2 2, Money 7 2-2 18, Curry 7 0-0 14. Totals 23 7-12.
SALESIANUM (66) – Whittlesey 1 1-2 3, Clark 4 1-2 11, DiVincenzo 9 9-11 28, Paoli 0 2-2 2, Sherlock 2 0-0 4, Dean 0 0-0 0, Brown 4 0-1 8, Kempski 4 1-2 10, Willis 0 0-1 0. Totals 24 14-21.
3-pointers: St E (Piekarski 2, Money 2, Miles); Sals (Clark 2, Kempski, DiVincenzo)