LADUE – With a number of other area teams receiving much of the early-season boys basketball hype, a pair of unbeaten teams flying just under the hype machine’s radar hooked up Friday night at ’s Nielson Gymnasium.
The host Rams came in with a 3-0 record, after impressive wins over John Burroughs, Brentwood, and Normandy, while the visitors from came in having swept all three games it played in the Parkway Tip-Off Classic.
Something had to give.
And something turned out to be the home team’s calm nerves, as Parkway North pushed and pressured Ladue into a night full of bad shots and turnovers, which eventually led the Vikings to a 41-31 win on the road.
“What we’ve been winning on all year is because we defend,” North head coach Russell Vincent said. “We have done a good job of contesting all shots, and rebounding the basketball. And when you do that, you give yourself a chance.”
At the outset though, it was Ladue that seemed more ready to nab itself a win, as the Rams scored the first three baskets of the game, and at the same time, held the Vikings scoreless for nearly the entire first five minutes of the game.
But that was when Vincent called a timeout to settle his crew down, and from that point forward, which included a 16-3 run that gave North a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter, the Vikings were completely in control.
“I thought we needed to settle down a bit,” Vincent said. “We were a little bit frantic at the start. But it’s a credit to these kids that they were able to settle down and play a pretty good game the rest of the way.”
North’s lead reached as many as 11 points at the end of the third quarter, as the Vikings’ full-court pressure defense forced Ladue into a number of mistakes in the third quarter.
The Rams scored just three points, all on free throws, in that third quarter, which nearly allowed North to pull completely away.
“We knew coming in that we kind of had to hang our hat on our defense," Ladue head coach Chad Anderson said. “And defensively the first four games, we’ve played outstanding. But tonight, we just couldn’t buy a bucket. So we’ve got to work on it, and just get better.”
The 31 points was Ladue’s lowest output of the season, and could clearly be attributed to North’s smothering defense, which forced the Rams to play much faster than they liked or intended.
“We’ve got a pretty young team,” Anderson said. “I think they got a little frustrated and took some desperation shots, and weren’t breaking down (Parkway North’s) zone the way we should’ve been.”
The Rams did get to within six points with just under four minutes left in the game, after a pair of back-to-back three-pointers by sophomores Conner Spirtas and Cornell Johnston.
But that was as close as Ladue would get, as North calmly sank its free throws down the stretch and got a monstrous two-hand dunk by the 6-foot-8 Darrell Johnson in the final minute, that put the game away for good.
“Winning when you’re not playing the way you think you can is always good,” Vincent said. “I think that we have a lot of room to improve, and to get some wins when we’re not playing our best basketball that speaks a lot about the kids and how mentally tough they are. Now we’ve got to correct some of the mistakes, and maybe we can take it to a little bit better level.”
Johnson led all scorers with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while teammate Aaron Hines added 13 points, six assists, and four steals of his own, as the Vikings improved to 4-0 on the season.
North will get the rest of the weekend off, before getting back on the court Tuesday night in South County, with a 7 p.m., non-conference game at Mehlville High.
Ladue is also off until Tuesday, when it will host another home game against Parkway South at the Nielson Gymnasium.
That game is also scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
GAME NOTE: Parkway North played Friday’s contest without senior forward Donavin Newsom, a football star for the Vikings, who was in Columbia (MO), on a recruiting trip at the University of Missouri.
earlier this summer, but is taking his official campus visit this weekend, along with a number of other top football and basketball recruits from around the country.
The players will tour the Mizzou campus, visit all the athletic facilities and dorms, and attend Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Navy, before returning home Sunday morning.