Cassius Winston has a huge fan in Warren De La Salle coach Greg Esler.
The junior point guard from U-D Jesuit got rare praise from a tough coach who doesn’t give out many compliments.
“I’m the longest-tenured coach in the Catholic League, and I think he’s the best guard since B.J. Armstrong,” Esler said of the former Brother Rice standout. “You could put him out there with any four guys and they’d win. He’s that good.”
He certainly was Tuesday night at De La Salle. Winston outscored the Pilots, 18-16, in the second half, putting on a dazzling display with 31 points in a 56-42 victory.
The Cubs (10-1) built a two-game lead in the Catholic League with a 4-0 league record. The Pilots are 7-5 overall and 2-2 in league play.
The third was the decisive quarter for U-D Jesuit, holding De La Salle to four points and turning a 26-25 halftime deficit into a 38-30 lead at the end of the quarter.
At one point, Winston had outscored the Pilots, 14-4, in the second half.
Coach Pat Donnelly needed his star guard to be a scorer on this night, even chewing out Winston after he failed to convert an assist by throwing the ball off the backboard to 6-foot-8 Eke Ikechukwu.
“We’ll try it again soon,” Winston said with a laugh.
The Cubs’ defense in the second half was no laughing matter.
“We were talking about at halftime about not being so lackadaisical defensively,” Donnelly said. “I thought we got beat on some front cuts, didn’t jump to the ball, got beat in transition for some easy baskets, had five guys running to the offensive glass, which allowed some run-outs.
“I thought we did a much better job in the second half.”
The Cubs held De La Salle high-scoring forward Kevin McKay to nine points and 6-9 Jack Ballantyne to four.
“We’re going to be good, we’re just young,” Esler said.
Winston already is good — and has the Cubs in position to make another trip to the Breslin Center, where they lost in the Class A semifinals last year.
“The coaches told me there wasn’t a lot of offense going and the zone was messing us up,” Winston said. “They put the pressure on me to be more aggressive and put the ball in the basket.
“When Coach went to the bench we become a lot smaller, but we get quicker and scrappier. Sometimes our defense turns up a little bit. We’re able to trap and pressure the ball a little more. We pride ourselves on locking down on defense and play like we’re 10 points behind.”
Go to usatodayhss.com/market/detroit to see game reports and scores from Tuesday’s sports.