Guard-play lifts Tigers to season opening victory over St. Pius
Playing without star forward Clay Gayman, sidelined by an ankle injury, the Nevada Tigers utilized a potent three-guard offense en route to a 60-53 victory over the St. Pius X Warriors Tuesday night at Wynn Gym.
The season opening victory carried extra weight, since it was also a West Central Conference victory.
Nevada (1-0 overall, 1-0 WCC-play) looked sharp in the opening minutes of the first period, as senior shooting guard Myles McNeley drilled a 3-pointer on Nevada's opening possession, followed by a Patrick Ferry lay-in to give Nevada a 5-0 cushion.
Warrior guards Joe Witherow and Tommy Hoambrecker kept the Warriors in the game early, as a pair of Witherow free throws with 2:03 remaining in the first handed St. Pius a 15-14 lead.
Nevada ended the first period the same way it opened it, with a 5-0 run, courtesy of a Matt Sommer trey and a Hunter Mason slashing lay-up, as the Tigers led 19-15 at the conclusion of the first period.
Baskets from Witherow and Hoambrecker early in the second helped St. Pius regain the lead, 20-19. Nevada responded with a 9-0 blitz, as Sommer drilled a triple from the top of the key, followed by four consecutive free throws from Ferry and guard Zach Gardner. The Tigers then increased its lead to 28-20 as sophomore guard Carter Swearingen scored the first points of his varsity career.
The half ended with a Sommer circus, lean-in 3-pointer to put Nevada up 34-26. Sommer led Nevada in scoring at the half with 13 points while knocking down three 3-pointers.
St. Pius opened the second half hot, going on a 7-1 blitz to trim Nevada's lead to 35-33. Sommer then went into attack-mode, driving hard to the basket and scoring, while also getting fouled. After knocking down the free throw, Nevada led 38-33.
"Pius responded coming out of halftime," Tigers head coach Shaun Gray said. "They weren't just going to give it to us. They were the team with the edge in the third quarter."
The Warriors came all the way back, as a Kyle Taylor lay-in put St. Pius on top 41-39 with 3:15 to play in the third. Trailing by three near the end of the third quarter, a McNeley trey tied the game, as the teams headed into the fourth quarter with the score 42-42.
"I challenged the boys to be the tougher team in the fourth quarter," Gray said.
Hoambrecker found himself at the charity stripe seven seconds into the final frame, knocking down both as St. Pius led by two. The dynamic play-making ability of Sommer was on full display, as he took a backcourt steal and converted into a basket and free throw to give Nevada 45-44 lead.
After Warriors guard Johnny Conforti again tied the game by sinking 1 of 2 free throws, Nevada struck back with two critical 3-point baskets.
The first came in transition when Mason kicked a pass out to McNeley on the right wing. McNeley, who has a feathery touch, drained the 3-ball to put Nevada in front 48-45 at the 6:57 mark.
On the Tigers next possession, Swearingen found Gardner on the left wing. Gardner stuck the 3-pointer as Nevada increased its cushion to 51-45.
"I thought we started being a little stronger with the ball in the fourth," Gray said. "And when we were stronger with the ball and not just throwing it away, we were able, in transition, to get some good looks, while breaking their pressure."
Gray continued, "And then, they were scrambling to find us, which is when Zach leaked open and knocked down that big shot. If our role players, our complementary pieces are going to hit shots ---- we're going to be tough to beat."
After a quick St. Pius 4-0 run trimmed Nevada's lead to 51-49, McNeley came through with what turned out to be a dagger 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:40 to play, extending the Tigers lead to 54-49.
"We have several set plays to get Myles open," Gray said. "I think he's one of the best shooters in the area. That was a designed play. He knows that even if they're running at you, if you can get it off ---- shoot it."
Gray said McNeley has always been a confident shooter.
"With Myles knowing that his whole team believes that he's going to make every shot ---- it gives him a lot of confidence."
Gray said the fourth period 3-point fireworks allowed the Tigers to switch into a zone defense, flustering the Pius offense. Trailing 56-51 with 1:14 remaining, the Warriors burned 48 seconds off the clock, just to get one shot attempt off, as Nevada was able to secure the season opening victory.
"With the lead, we were able to stay in that zone defense and get them out of rhythm. That was huge for us," Gray said.
For the Tigers, Sommer finished with a team-high 21 points while McNeley chipped in with 15. Mason, Swearingen, Gardner and Braeden Hinton added five points apiece.
Gray said he was impressed with Sommer's season debut, who in addition to his 21 points, was 6-of-6 from the free the line.
"His game is more balanced than it was last year," Gray said. "Tonight, we saw him hit a couple mid-range shots; we saw him get fouled and not charge into people while getting to the rim. It was a very balanced game for him."
Gray was also pleased with the play of Swearingen.
"Carter is a guy that when you bring him in, that gives us three guards that can shoot the ball and put it on the deck," Gray said. Carter came in and played some clutch minutes for us," Gray note.
Gray also said he was very happy with Mason's defensive effort.
For the Warriors, Hoambrecker finished with a game-high 25 points.
Junior varsity contest
The Tigers junior varsity team fell to St. Pius 40-34. Nevada led 8-1 after the first period, 18-7 at halftime, and and 24-17 at the conclusion of the third period. Pius then outscored the Tigers 23-10 in the fourth to pull off the comeback victory. For the Tigers, Matt Thompson finished with a dozen points, while Will Johnson chipped in with 11.