Posted On: 11/30/18 9:13 AM

It was billed as an intriguing early season game between two conference championship contenders — St. Francis from the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, Springfield from the Northern Lakes League. By the end of the night, the league hierarchy in Northwest Ohio appeared rather clear: TRAC 1-0 over the NLL.

Toledo St. Francis, amid high preseason expectations and an excitable home crowd on Thursday, answered the bell with an 80-51 win over Springfield.

The Knights came out of halftime leading by just eight, 36-28, but they were on point after the intermission. On one end of the floor, their efficiency from beyond the arch and floor spacing put pressure on Springfield. Defensively, a switch to the 1-3-1 zone by head coach Travis Lewis caught the Blue Devils off-guard and allowed SFS’s length to play a more important role.

So, that’s the summary. But, let’s get into the a more of the details.


Jackson Harris is a problem for NW Ohio

Harris’s opening night totals of 27 points and 12 rebounds are obviously outstanding. The 6’6” senior forward, though, should be able to keep up this level of production against local competition. The Toledo area’s main deficiency is size while Harris’s strengths are a face-up jumper and his scoring on the left block. The sight of him shooting over defenses and abusing smaller forwards on the inside was a frequent occurrence tonight — it’s also a sign of what’s to come.


Denzel Prince should be on Division III recruiting boards

Prince is a 6’3” guard/wing from Springfield that we haven’t seen since we watched this very same matchup two seasons back. In that time, Prince has developed into a defensive specialist with an athletic and lengthy build. The rangy senior came up with four interceptions in the passing lanes. He also rebounded well for his position, grabbing eight boards. Prince left a little bit to be desired on offense, not showing much assertiveness as a scorer. When he did so confidently, Prince’s catch-and-shot jumper looked pretty good with a high release. Showed good explosion at the rim.


Springfield couldn’t score

St. Francis’s defense allowed right around 25 points per half, but they did it in much different ways before and after the break.

In the first half, they came out in a traditional man-to-man defense in the halfcourt. At times, Springfield didn’t even run plays against the look. Rather, they attacked one-on-one matchups, mostly going towards the rim and sometimes failing to even make one pass on a possession. Senior 6’0” guard Terrel Bryant, who finished with 11 points, took most of those shots for Springfield. Give a lot of credit to senior Knight defenders Zion Justice, Jakiel Wells, and Sebastian McClellan for defending well on an island. Their teammates trusted those guards and shut off passing lanes away from the ball. Many of the Blue Devils points in this half came on second-chance looks, actually. 

St. Francis then went to a 1-3-1 zone for the third quarter. Springfield never countered the adjustment, mostly tossing a bounce pass directly into a trap in the corner. This was when SFS’s size and length became more of a factor as 6’5” wing Jamiya Neal played the top of the zone and hunted passing lanes once it was in the corner.


Jamiya Neal doesn’t need to score to impact the game

As we just mentioned, the sophomore wing’s length against smaller guards is an obvious advantage. He buys in defensively and creates transition opportunities that way. Neal, mainly though, made his presence felt by changing the tempo of the game. Off the defensive rebound, Neal either pushed quickly or tried to advance with long outlet passes — totaling seven rebounds and five assists to go with 12 points.

As a prospect, the no. 18 prospect in 2021 looks better physically. He’s grown an inch to 6’5” and is noticeably more explosive at the rim. His upside as an athlete is complimented as a mid-range shooter off motion. Neal did throw a couple lazy post entry passes, however, and refused to attack the basket going left.


Skill, size, and experience the key for SFS

As mentioned, the difference in St. Francis’s 23-11 third quarter was their 3-point shooting and 1-3-1 trapping defense. Their size, though, facilitated that. When they really made their run, they went 6’6”, 6’6”, and 6’5” in the frontcourt with Harris, senior Grant Sonnenberg, and Neal — all of which can shoot the jumper and/or create for others. Offensively, their use of the pick and pop was pristine. Harris and Sonnenberg also instinctually knew to fade to the wing when guards drove towards them on the block, often resulting in wide-open 3-point jumpers as Springfield’s bigs mistakenly helped on penetration.