San Antonio – “Coach always says it’s a bull’s eye on our backs; everyone’s coming out there to beat us. So we’re prepared.”
Those words of St. Mary’s men’s basketball coach Jim Zeleznak have rung in Moses Sundufu’s ears since dealing with the adversity they’ve faced on the road in recent weeks.
Having played their first two Heartland Conference games of the season away from home, Sundufu says those two games – both victories – were “a big confidence boost” to prepare them for the rest of the conference slate after witnessing their ability to perform well on the road.
The Rattlers’ preparedness for the vigor of conference play was welcomed by lively fans Monday, as they slammed a 19-point triumph in their first Heartland Conference game at home over Dallas Baptist, 77-58.
St. Mary’s (9-4 overall, 3-0 in conference) three straight conference wins were the first look for Sundufu (Jr., Hopkins, Minn.), as they were the first three conference games of his career since transferring to St. Mary’s this year. But he failed to be fazed, leading the team Monday with 14 points and eight rebounds as the Rattlers rolled to their fifth straight win.
Sundufu talks about the win
Also in his first season with the Rattlers after redshirting last year, Isaiah Matthews (RS-Fr., Texas City, Texas) pulled down 14 points as well. Veterans Ray Marshall (Sr., El Paso, Texas) and Kevin Kotzur (Jr., La Vernia, Texas) added 11 and 12 points, respectively, and newcomer Daryell Taylor (Jr., Houston) put up another nine.
The Rattlers set the tone of the game at the tipoff, quickly overcoming the Patriots (9-6, 0-1 in conference) on offense, leading the game from the first bucket. Eight of Marshall’s and nine of Sundufu’s points were scored in the first half, helping the Rattlers become familiar with a 19-point lead at the end of the half, 43-24.
But Dallas Baptist wasn’t ready to lay down for the loss just yet. Full-court press, double-team traps and aggressive offense met St. Mary’s from the hatch, tightening the gap to 12 points in the second half. Dallas Baptist equaled the scoring of the Rattlers, 34-34, in the second half – but the afterburners of Kotzur and Matthews, who each scored seven of out their total points in the second, denied the Patriots of their first conference win.
When the pressure of the game grew intense and the defense increased, the Rattlers were as unfazed as Sundufu was in meeting the Heartland Conference for the first time.
“We handled their defense pretty good,” says Sundufu, who went 6 of 8 from the floor. “We just try to get to the open shot and spread the floor out. We work on press break a lot in practice so it’s not that difficult. We just have to be strong with the ball and focus.”
The Rattlers have also been working their bench to its fullest potential over their five straight victories. Twenty-eight points came from the bench Monday, with D.J. Castro’s (So., El Paso, Texas) seven – which included one of his signature 3-pointers – and one of the night’s leading scorers, Matthews, with 14.
The Rattlers will go for their sixth straight win this Thurs., Jan. 12, at Oklahoma Panhandle State in Goodwell, Okla. Tipoff will be at 5:30 p.m.