San Antonio – The Rattlers had been down this road before, jumping to a sizable first-half lead over cross-town rival Incarnate Word thanks to an energetic start.
It was the scenario early last season – as it was again in Saturday’s season opener – when the St. Mary’s men’s basketball team saw a 13-point halftime lead slowly slip away.
This time, Rattlers senior point guard Lamb Autrey and his teammates weren’t about to loosen their bite.
Pulling away down the stretch with sharp free-throw shooting and an intense defensive effort, the Rattlers topped the Cardinals 70-61 before nearly 1,000 fans at Bill Greehey Arena on a night in which the Rattlers hosted “Operation: Drive to the Basket,” an initiative geared to support St. Mary’s ROTC alumni deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The victory gave coach Jim Zeleznak his 100th career victory in seven seasons leading the program. He is 100-72 in his career.
The turning point Saturday? Only a halftime speech in which the Rattlers reminded themselves about last year’s loss to UIW.
“They were telling us, ‘It’s 0-0 again,” said Autrey (Sr., Cibolo, Texas), who scored 12 points. “Everyone reflected back to last year, when we came out with intensity early but lost. We brought back our intensity and we played well as a team on defense.”
Re-watch the victory!
Autrey continued: “I felt like the game was ours when everyone came in at the half with that speech. It was some of the redshirt guys talking, like Mychal (Pinson) and Bryce (Smith), and some other guys like Moses (Sundufu), Shavon (Scott) and Berto (Soto).”
Center Kevin Kotzur (Jr., La Vernia, Texas) had a double-double with a team-high 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Sundufu (Jr., Hopkins, Minn.) added 12 points on 2-of-7 shooting from 3-point range. Senior post Ray Marshall (El Paso, Texas) had 11 points and eight boards.
For the Rattlers, it was a night that saw the old blend with the new quite seamlessly, as St. Mary’s never looked back after carrying a 32-28 lead into the break.
While Kotzur, Autrey and Marshall are among the returning mainstays of the program, the Rattlers have welcomed in a number of new faces this season, especially along the perimeter.
So far, so good.
Sundufu, a potential shutdown defender, showcased his sharp shooting touch, while newcomer guards Shavon Scott (So., Milwaukee) and Daryell Taylor (Jr., Houston) combined for 13 points.
Isaiah Matthews (R-Fr., Texas City, Texas), a returning newcomer of sorts, also contributed 14 solid minutes of play off the bench, scoring four points and grabbing six boards after redshirting last season.
“I knew the new guys from playing with them in (junior college), Autrey said. “They’re great scorers, all 6-foot, 200-plus. As a point guard, I know we have other guards I can trust who can score and play defense.”
The Rattlers will return to the court on Friday, when they host Angelo State at 7:30 p.m. at Bill Greehey Arena in the annual St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Classic.