GREENVILLE – The A.I. du Pont boys basketball team brushed up on its history before Saturday’s home game against St. Mark’s.
The Tigers knew the Spartans had beaten them three years in a row, a fact that provided the motivation for A.I. to rally in the fourth quarter for a 41-38 victory.
A late defensive surge led by junior Nasir Comeger made the difference as the seventh-ranked Tigers improved to 8-1 and handed St. Mark’s (5-1) its first loss.
“Our main focus is defense,” said Comeger, who counted two big fourth-quarter buckets among his six points. “When I’m on the floor I try to play defense first, because that leads to offense.”
The Spartans lost despite shooting 56.5 percent (13 of 23) from the floor, compared to A.I.’s 45.2 percent (14 of 31). St. Mark’s coach Nick Sanna said his team didn’t rebound enough of the misses.
“I really think the difference in the game was they beat us up on the glass,” Sanna said. “To me, in close games, little things are magnified. They did a great job on the glass, and they made some big plays in the clutch.”
Neither team led by more than five points through three quarters, with eight lead changes and three ties. Chris Ludman’s off-balance layup sent the Spartans into the final period with a 28-25 lead.
Julius Inge, who led the Tigers with 12 points, drove for a layup to push A.I. ahead 33-32 with 3:22 left. Then Comeger made a steal and hit a 15-footer. Then a steal by Jude Gulotti led to Comeger’s fast-break layup to give the Tigers a 37-32 advantage with 2:30 to play.
“We want our guys to pressure the ball, and if you can poke it out, poke it out,” Tabb said. “… We did it with defense.”
Ludman, who hit 8 of 9 from the field, drove for the last of his 23 points to pull St. Mark’s within 39-38 with 38 seconds remaining. But A.I.’s Jaisan Wilmore broke free for a layup to push the margin back to three, and the Spartans missed two late 3-point attempts that would have tied the game.
The Tigers’ only loss was a 79-64 setback to No. 4 Appoquinimink on Dec. 13. A.I. has won five straight since.
“Usually, for our team, we have a lot of points,” Inge said. “People sometimes worry about getting theirs. This game, we came at it as a team and played hard and got the win.”
The Tigers are learning to play at different speeds, ringing up 72 and 67 points in wins over Tatnall and St. Elizabeth, and winning with just 38 against Wilmington Friends and 40 against Middletown.
“I use a boxing term, styles make fights, and it’s always a good matchup with the two of us,” Tabb said. “… We don’t mind playing the slow-it-down type of game. We understand that’s what teams are going to try to do, because our guards are pretty skilled.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.