NEW CANAAN -- After struggling to a 2-20 finish last season with a host of underclassmen, the St. Luke's boys basketball team was hopeful this term would see the benefits of last year's rebuilding campaign.
Consider Wednesday's win a massive step in the right direction.
Center Aminenye Lakoju scored all 12 of his points in a second-half rally as the Storm blasted King 73-56 on Wednesday afternoon, surpassing their win total from last year while earning their second FAA win of the season after failing to register one in 2011-12.
"It's a big win because it gives us more confidence that what we are doing is moving us in the right direction," St. Luke's coach Brian Kriftcher said. "To come out here and execute the way we did in the second half is huge. Nobody wants to work hard and fall on the downside every time."
Entering the second half trailing 30-25, the broad shouldered and agile Lakoju took charge at both ends of the court with a series of blocks and putbacks. Although he was hampered by foul trouble during the spurt, the junior managed to stay on the court long enough to cap a 19-10 run to give the Storm (3-4) a 46-40 lead with nine minutes left in the game.
"We are trying to manage his minutes," Kriftcher said. "He's newer to the game, but he's going to be a handful for anybody. He can't be a handful if he's sitting on the bench, but our assistant coaches are doing an outstanding job of managing his minutes."
Lakoju's play energized his teammates, who began creating turnovers and finishing at the basket with regularity. Elijah Holyfield led the Storm with 22 and Jalen Latta scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
"Our coaches told us what we had to do," said Storm captain Sean Cullinane, who scored 15 points. "The first three minutes of the second half are always the most important and we did all the things we needed to do to go on a run."
The hosts would never let the Vikings (6-3) back into the game, who continuously shot themselves in the foot with missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch. St. Luke's didn't reach the foul line until 9:57 left in the second half, but went 14-for-20 to secure the win. King went 16-of-29 (9-of-20 in the second half) from the line.
"We needlessly turned the ball over; it's sort of been an Achilles' heel of ours all year long," King coach Greg Dobbs said. "If we rebound and don't turn the basketball over we seem to be a good team. We unraveled pretty quickly today. Missing free throws always contributes. There are things that bring momentum and things that kill momentum and St. Luke's clearly got theirs in the second half."
The first half was controlled mostly by King standout Drew Sawyer. The senior, who scored 19 of the Vikings 30 first-half points and finished the game with 28, made back-to-back 3s to help his team to a 26-18 advantage. King's aggressiveness on both offense and defense provided a host of problems for the Storm, but it was the hosts who made the right adjustments to secure the victory.
"We made a couple of corrections at halftime," Kriftcher said. "We played tougher on defense for sure and rebounded better, but mostly against their 3-2 (zone defense), we moved the ball better on offense."
Both teams paid tribute to the Newtown tragedy prior to tip-off, as a moment of silence was observed while the coaching staffs and players held up 26 burning candles.
ST. LUKE'S 73, KING 56
Drew Sawyer 9 8-13 28; Conor Harris 2 1-5 5; Nick DellaJacono 4 0-2 10; Angus Bass 0 1-2 1; Mike Correa 0 0-0 0; Chris Massucco 0 0-0 0; Gilbert Francois 3 6-8 12. TOTALS: 17 16-29 56.
ST. LUKE'S (3-4)
Jalen Latta 6 3-4 16; Elijah Holyfield 7 6-8 22; Sean Cullinane 6 2-4 15; Aminenye Lakoju 6 0-0 12; T.J. Simpson 0 2-2 2; Kevin Florio 1 1-2 3; Jackson Prince 1 0-0 3. TOTALS: 27 14-20 73.
Halftime: 30-25 K
3-Pointers: K--Sawyer 5 DellaJacono 2. STL -- Holyfield 2, Latta, Prince, Cullinane.