DANVERS — The St. John’s Prep basketball team has followed a similar formula in each of its six wins to start the year: play hard man-to-man defense and wear its opponent down in the second half.
The Eagles did that once again last night and added a new wrinkle in their 61-40 victory over Reading.
St. John’s smothered the Rockets from end-to-end, but also got a breakout offensive performance from sophomore wing Ben Judson. The lanky left-hander drilled five three-pointers, scored a game-high 23 points, and looked like the go-to scorer that the St. John’s coaching staff hoped he could be.
“He was a lot more aggressive. We’ve been on him about taking the ball to the hoop and being more aggressive. The last couple days of practice and today he was more aggressive looking for his shot,” Prep (6-0) coach Sean Connolly said. “That’s what we were hoping for (from him) coming into the season. Obviously, he’s not going to shoot as well every night as he did tonight, but we want him to look for his shot.”
Judson made an effort to get to the hoop, but it was his long-range shooting that doomed Reading.
Judson hit three second-quarter threes that helped the Prep build a 10-point lead. He added two more triples in the second half as the Prep pulled away. His final three-pointer pushed the Eagles’ lead to 51-36 early in the fourth quarter.
“He stroked the ball,” Reading (3-2) coach Paul Morrissey said. “He was deep on some of those, too. He set his feet and we allowed him to get some shots off, and he made us pay.”
Ultimately, it was the Prep defense that caused the game to get away from the Rockets.
St. John’s made it a priority to limit Reading junior forward Drew Belcher’s touches in the post, and the game plan couldn’t have worked any better for Connolly.
Belcher came into the contest averaging more than 17 points per game this season, but St. John’s held him to just three points.
Eagles’ guards Drex Costello, Tyler Dooley, and Max Burt also pressured the Reading guards all over the court.
“That’s what we’ve been hanging our hat on,” Connolly said about his team’s defense. “We want to keep getting better defensively, and we have a lot of guys who are committed to playing good, hard man-to-man defense. Our help defense was a lot better. We were trying to collapse on Belcher and not let him get much. He’s a very good athlete, a good player, and we’re definitely happy with the way we played defensively.”
The two teams played a tight first half, with Burt hitting a three-pointer to beat the first half buzzer for a 32-27 Prep lead.
St. John’s out-executed their visitors in the second half, and limited them to just 13 points after intermission.
“We missed a lot of open shots and they executed very well,” Morrissey said. “They collapsed on Drew and we needed to get more looks for him. That’s something we have to work on.”
Senior guard Nate Clarke led Reading with 16 points and sophomore guard Mike Algeri added 12 for the Rockets.
Costello chipped in with 16 points for St. John’s and Burt finished with nine.
“Reading is a very good team and this is a good win. We’re off to a great start,” Connolly said. “We have Lynn Classical next week and then we start the league. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”