It took 19 games, but Mentor coach Bob Krizancic finally got to see a glimpse of what his team is capable of when fully healthy.
Despite still working into full basketball shape and getting the chemistry down, Krizancic liked what he saw in a 68-60 win over visiting Villa Angela-St. Joseph on Feb. 6.
With guards Andrew Valeri, Kyle McIntosh and Jack Korsok – all of whom have missed time with injuries – back in the starting lineup and Andrew Robinson (27 points) emerging as a dangerous offensive weapon, Mentor improved to 10-9 with one of its best wins of the season.
“This weekend, it was exciting to just coach the team I thought would be there Game 1. It took 18 games, and this is 19,” he said. “We have pretty good depth. I thought we played harder this weekend, and you can tell that the guys on the floor have more confidence because the pieces are there.”
While he was missing from the scorebook, McIntosh played a key role in the win, holding VASJ’s leading scorer, Sherman Dean, to two points on one-of-10 from the floor. Sophomore point guard Jerry Higgins paced VASJ with a game-high 30.
“I thought we did a real good job on (Dean),” Krizancic said.
“(Jerry) Higgins is a real nice player. They’ve got some nice talent over there. This is a great atmosphere for tournament time. It’s always great playing, the later the better, and two weeks before the tournament starts, it was great timing.”
Robinson spoke to the importance of the Cardinals coming out on top in a tough game against a quality opponent like the Vikings.
“This was probably one of our most important games of the season,” he said. “We had everyone back, we proved to everyone that we’re back and ready to play.”
VASJ coach Babe Kwasniak is proficient when it comes to preparing a team for the postseason. The Vikings have won two state titles under Kwasniak in the past three years, including the 2015 Division III crown. VASJ is gearing up to make another run to Columbus, and while the youthful Vikings suffered the 8-point setback at Mentor on Feb. 6, Kwasniak recognized the benefits long term of facing the Cardinals.
“The only way you get experience is by this. This is so good for us,” Kwasniak said. “The only way to achieve success is to not be afraid to fail.
“I know one thing. There’s a lot of people in that meeting room tomorrow who don’t want to see Mentor and I understand why,” he added, speaking of the district tournament seeding on Feb. 7. “That guy (Mentor coach Bob Krizancic) is the best coach at any level in Ohio. Their team takes on his personality ad his competitiveness. That is a huge reason for their success.”
Mentor (10-9) jumped out to a 29-16 lead in the second quarter before VASJ rallied behind standout sophomore guard Jerry Higgins, who scored a game-high 30 points.
The Vikings pulled to within two in the third quarter at 34-32 before a key 3-pointer by Caden Kryz. Andrew Robinson scored 27 to lead the Cardinals, who pulled away over the final 12 minutes.
“I hate to put it as simply as we didn’t make shots, but we got some good looks and the ball didn’t go down,” Kwasniak said. “We defended well, and if you told me Andrew Valeri and Kyle McIntosh would (be a non-factor scoring) I would have taken my chances. We are going to be OK. We have to clean some things up.”
Trailing, 31-21, VASJ (12-5) went on a 7-0 run before halftime to cut the deficit to three. But Mentor opened the game back up to 49-39 on a Kryz 3-pointer midway through the third. The Vikings could not bring the game back within its final eight-point resting spot after being held at bay by the Cardinals’ 11 3-pointers.
Kwasniak said part of the outcome of the game was a matter of his team not creating enough on offense.
“I know they pride themselves on wearing people out. We pride ourselves on not getting worn out, and I don’t think we did, we just missed some shots,” he said. “I hate using the term ‘we just missed shots,’ but they can really guard, so when we missed those open looks. It just perpetuated it.”
TOP-SEEDED MENTOR OPENS TOURNAMENT PLAY AT HOME VS LAKESIDE
A regular-season record hovering around .500 didn't stop Mentor from earning plenty of respect at the Division I Euclid seed meeting on Feb. 7.
The Cardinals (10-9) earned the No. 1 seed in an online vote of the coaches, and then after selecting a sectional semifinal game in the top half of the bracket, watched most of the rest of the higher seeds in the field go to the other side.
"We have said all along we feel good about this team when we are healthy and if you look at our schedule and some of our losses I think other coaches recognize some of our potential," Mentor coach Bob Krizancic said. "But the whole district field is very balanced and very deep. It should be interesting."
Mentor will open at home vs. No. 12 seed Lakeside on Feb. 24. If the Cardinals advance, they will again play at home on Feb. 27 in a sectional final vs. No. 11 Riverside. The winner of the sectional championship advances to Euclid for the district semis on March 2.