It’s sometimes referred to as high-octane basketball, and Mekeel Christian Academy played it quite well Tuesday night.
Causing chaos at the defensive end and using quick passes and the three-point ball to generate offense, Mekeel raced past Schoharie, 71-32, and took over sole possession of first place in the Western Athletic Conference Southern Division.
“We fly up the floor. That’s the way coach wants it,” said Caleb Stewart, the Lions’ 6-foot-6 senior guard. “It’s crazy basketball, but we control the crazy.”
Using splended two-way play, Mekeel went on a 9-0 spurt to close out the first quarter and pieced together a 14-3 run to end the second. The Lions slapped on their fullcourt press in the third, and extended their 33-16 halftime advantage with a 28-9 push.
“We wanted to end it right there,” said Stewart. “We didn’t want to take it any further than that.”
Mekeel (4-0, 6-2) collected five steals in the put-away third quarter, Stewart scored 12 of his 24 points, and Spencer Bath connected in two of the Lions’ four three-point baskets.
“Coach wants us to get up the floor faster than they can get back,” Stewart said of the third quarter, when the Lions went on runs of 10-0, 8-0 and 7-0. “If they don’t get back, we go to the hole.”
Bath scored all of his 15 points on threes, Courtney Penson nailed a trio of threes for his nine points and the Lions made 12 shots from beyond the arc as part of their sixth consecutive victory.
“We like shooting the ball,” said Stewart. “We drill a lot. We’ve always been a team that shoots the threes.”
Mekeel hasn’t always been a team with depth, though. The Lions have some this season, and coach Chad Bowman put it on display by rotating seven players in and out of the lineup through the first three quarters. He would have used eight, but sophomore Marquan Newman was out with a groin injury.
“We were able to keep a lot of people fresh,” said Bowman. “We have a good group. We have confidence in all of them.”
Bowman’s quick substitution pattern appeared to take a toll in the Indians, who held an 8-4 lead before the Lions began to roar.
“One element of our plan was to generate pace,” Bowman said. “It’s not easy to play when you’re
fatigued. The passes are not as crisp. You don’t get to the glass as well. You might not get back [on defense] as quickly.”
“We play 100 percent when we’re on the floor. We get some time to rest when coach takes us out, and then we get back in there,” said Bath, a senior guard and team co-captain with Stewart. “It’s the best way to play.”
Mekeel got a boost from Mano Senthil, who came off the bench to contribute nine points, three assists and an active defensive effort in his first game of the season after serving a suspension.
Senthil also gave Mekeel another ballhandler with Stewart.
Even more help is on the way, with sophomore guard Herbie Sexton expected to soon join the team after sustaining a foot injury in the preseason.
“He gives us a lot of everything,” Bath said of Senthil, who ended the third quarter with a three-point basket. “He’s an important addition on defense, and when we have the ball, he can be a big weapon.”
“He’s got a good basketball IQ,” Bowman said. “He’s in the right spot on defense, he’s good at setting up his teammates, and he can finish around the basket. He fits in well in our system.”
Though junior Ohieno Miller and seniors Dan Alteri and Ben Wager combined for only eight of Mekeel’s points, their hustling defensive performance was significant. Alteri led the Lions in rebounds with seven and steals with three.
“I liked what Dan gave for us. He gave us so much energy. I like what all of those guys gave us,” Bowman said of the trio. “They’re important players on this team.”
Senthil ended the first quarter with consecutive layups to give Mekeel a 13-8 lead. Bath started and finished the Lions’ 14-3, second-quarter run with threes, and in between, Stewart nailed a three and turned a steal into a layup.
Cole Keyser hit a three for Schoharie (3-1, 6-3) to begin the third quarter, and after Bath answered from deep, Stewart scored on two drives and three foul shots.
Connor Brown paced Schoharie with 14 points and nine rebounds. The junior guard scored all eight of the Indians’ second-quarter points.
Hausmann 1-0-2, Ottman 1-0-2, Stone 1-0-3, Brown 5-3-14, Keyser 1-0-3, Sacket 2-0-5, Smida 1-0-3. Totals: 12-3-32.
Bath 5-0-15, Moore 1-0-3, Penson 3-0-9, Stewart 8-6-24, Wager 1-0-2, Miller 3-0-6, Senthil 4-0-9, Mulvey 1-1-3. Totals: 26-7-71.
Schoharie 8 8 9 7 — 32
Mekeel Christian 13 20 28 10 — 71
Three-point goals: Stone, Brown, Keyser, Sacket, Smida, Bath 5, Moore, Penson 3, Stewart 2, Senthil.