Yarbrough's double-double propels team to FAA title game

mnorlander@bcnnew.com

The fact Hamden Hall was on pace to score 76 points in the first half let Kevin Anthony know things would eventually turn in his team's favor.

Although it trailed 45-35 at the half, St. Luke's quickly vanquished the double-digit deficit with 11 unanswered points en route to a convincing 78-60 victory to advance to the FAA finals against Brunswick last Saturday at St. Luke's School.

"It was a matter of, OK, can we sustain our run and work as a team," Anthony, the St. Luke's coach, said. "Honestly, it wasn't our best shooting night. We didn't shoot the ball quite as pure and as well as we have other nights, which means it was a good win. We worked for it in other ways."

If St. Luke's was going to advance to the title game, Hamden Hall (5-13) was going to make sure the Crusaders earned it. In the first half Dante Brito scored 13 of his team-high 18 points and continually got to the rim.

"They just outran us, that's all it really was," Josh Dugas said. "It was 3-on-1, 2-on-1 the entire first half."

There were also a lot of easy opportunities that didn't drop through the hoop for Dugas and his teammates.

"We missed some shots we normally make, like bunnies, and then we were forcing the issue a little bit," Anthony said. "Hamden Hall came out aggressive. They played extremely well in the first four minutes. They had 19 points, and at that pace they were going to have 76 at halftime. I knew they'd [slow down]."

The start of the first half mirrored the start of the second -- only it was in St. Luke's favor. Hamden Hall got out to a 7-0 lead and hits six of its first seven shots to start the game; then, in the second 16-minute frame, St. Luke's hit five of its first six from the field to take a 46-45 lead. Hamden Hall needed 10 shots to make two field goals in the opening minutes of the second half.

It only scored seven points in the first 10 minutes. So what exactly were Anthony's words of wisdom at halftime that sparked his team's turnaround?

"I just told them that they can't panic and what we needed to do was move the ball more and play as a team which we did well in the second half," Anthony said.

There was no dispute over who kept the Crusaders in the game and who was responsible for helping them pull away. Brandon Yarborough had a massive double-double, scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. He also took three charges -- all of which came in the first half, keeping spirits high for the Crusaders -- which Anthony praised afterward.

"Charges are, I think, one of the greatest plays in basketball," he said. "One, it takes an offensive possession away. Two, it gives the other team a foul. And it sets a tone that we're going to be here to take your best shot. I mean, Brandon Yarbrough was picking himself up off the ground. That is a lot of heart, character and toughness. Those are big, emotional plays for us."

Kevin Mahoney had 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Steve Johnston put up 18 points, 10 of which came in the second half.

"This man right here got us hyped," Johnston said of Yarbrough. "Taking all those charges, getting all those boards and cleaning up our mess, he inspired us."

Yarbrough is still recovering from torn tendons in his right hand, which he suffered back in December.

"It's about 80 percent," Yarbrough said about the injury. "I don't have full range of motion going back. If it gets hit, it hurts a lot. But when I get in that zone, that adrenaline, I don't feel anything."

The Crusaders continued to cruise in the second half thanks to Dugas, who led the transition game, and Evan Kenagy, whose 3-pointer with 3:53 left gave St. Luke's a 71-57 lead and put the nail in Hamden Hall's coffin.

St. Luke's held the Hornets to a mere 15 points over the last 16 minutes. The only other scorer in double-digits for the Hornets was Greg Brown, who had 10. Crusaders players credited the uptick in grabbing caroms as the primary reason it overwhelmed Hamden Hall in the second half.

"The rebounds sparked our fast break," Johnston said.

Dugas added that Yarbrough's emotion and words about

"He's always the one feeding the energy to the team," he said. "Knowing that this could've been our last game really made us step up."

-- Tom Forde contributed to this article.