Host St. Joseph boys lose to Cornell in tournament final
St. Joseph’s boys basketball team saw its matchup against Cornell on Saturday as an early measuring stick. And while the Spartans showed some spunk in the championship game of their own tournament, they learned they have work left to accomplish.
Kaden DiVito scored a game-high 28 points, and Class A No. 2 Cornell used a big first-half run to seize control and earn a 78-61 victory over St. Joseph in the championship game of the St. Joseph tournament.
“The kids know we can play with them,” St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson said. “We had some bad spurts. We know we can play better than we played. Each kid in the locker room knows there’s a piece in their game that needs to improve, team-wise and individually. This was a good test, and it shows what we need to work on.”
Cornell, a WPIAL semifinalist last season, got a second straight big scoring performance from DiVito, the tournament MVP, as well as 20 points from Isaiah Langston and 13 from Zaier Harrison.
It was a measuring-stick type of game for the Raiders (2-0), as well. The team has just one senior and didn’t play a fall schedule.
“I think that first night (Friday) we were kind of rusty playing and kind of showed it,” Cornell coach Bill Sacco said. “Tonight I thought we did a lot better in terms of taking care of the ball. Our transition defense was pretty good, and we shot pretty well. Those are keys to the success, and I hope we can keep them going all year long.”
St. Joseph, which beat Propel Braddock Hills in its tournament opener Friday, is working to bring starters Matt Arvay and Daniel Fábregas back after both missed much of last season with injuries.
The Spartans led Cornell, 12-10, late in the first quarter, but that was their high-water mark for the game. Cornell responded with a 21-0 run that spanned the last few minutes of the first quarter and the first half of the second quarter.
DiVito, Harrison and Langston scored 19 of Cornell’s 21 points during the run as the Raiders also pounded St. Joseph on the offensive boards and took care of St. Joseph turnovers by getting out in transition.
“I thought they threw the ball away on our press a little bit, and I’m not sure why because they press, so I figured they would be pretty good at it,” Sacco said. “They are, and (they are) a very good team to beat. They have a lot of experience and playing on their home court. Our kids did a great job.”
St. Joseph turned the ball over 20 times, including 12 in the first half. Cornell led, 42-26, at halftime.
“We have the kids put some of the keys to the game up (on the locker room board), and one of them was no unforced turnovers, or minimize the unforced turnovers,” Robinson said. “That’s what they know they need to clean up. A lot of them were unforced.
“If it’s forced, it’s one thing — that’s just good basketball. But when you throw the ball away for no reason, you can’t give a team like that too many offensive chances.”
St. Joseph made a run in the second half, twice cutting Cornell’s lead to 10 points in the third quarter before finally getting its deficit into single digits in the fourth.
A reverse layup by Andrew Sullivan made it 61-53 with 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, but Harrison answered with a three-point play to kick-start a 9-0 Cornell run that ultimately put the game out of reach.
“That’s what I expect them to be able to do,” Sacco said. “(Friday) night we did the same thing. … Two 17-point wins, not too bad, not too shabby.”
DiVito, who hit seven 3-pointers in his 46-point effort against Deer Lakes on Friday, made three more 3s Saturday. Langston added a pair for the Raiders.
Arvay, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, scored 17 points for St. Joseph. So did Fábregas before he fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. Grant Bendis added 10 points and nine rebounds.
“This is a good group of kids,” Robinson said. “They’re very focused, and they want to be successful this year. I think a game like this will help us.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.