A two-game losing streak to a pair of state title contenders isn’t the end of the world for most teams, but Villa Angela-St. Joseph isn’t most teams.
The Vikings – a favorite to bring home a state championship in Division III – are in a funk according to Coach Babe Kwasniak. And as the postseason approaches, there is urgency to fix things and get back on track.
Kwasniak was in no mood to pull punches or mince words following a 65-50 loss at St. Edward on Feb. 26, which came four days after a 13-point setback at home to nationally ranked Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
“I head the chants of ‘overrated’ tonight and maybe that’s true. We’re not as good as many people think and not as good as we think we are,” Kwasniak said.
“We’re not very good right now. … Maybe it’s my fault. It’s easy when it’s going well. It seems like we’re playing our worst basketball of the season right now, and that’s a reflection of the head coach. I take full responsibility for it. We haven’t been very good in practice, and, consequently, we haven’t been very good in the game.”
VASJ (15-4) used a 13-0 run to take a 10-point lead at halftime, but St. Edward used an even bigger run in the second half to take a victory on Senior Night at the Eagles Nest in Lakewood.
Leading, 44-36, late in the third quarter, VASJ was overwhelmed by a 29-6 Eagles’ run that included a 4-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in which St. Edward ripped off 17 unanswered points.
Of the six points the Vikings scored in the final 9 minutes, four were scored by senior guard Brian Parker (18 points). Northwestern recruit Dererk Pardon was the only other VASJ player in double figures with 12 points.
“Our offensive woes, I can’t really explain,” Kwasniak said. “We’re a team averaging 83.3 points this year and now we’re not playing shoemakers, we’re playing some pretty good teams. We’re not playing very well, and we need to fix it.”
VASJ led, 32-22, at the half, but St. Edward (16-5) cut the deficit to 44-40 heading into the fourth quarter. The Eagles outscored the Vikings, 25-6, over the final 8 minutes of play.
Darien Knowles – not as much of a household name as other big-time St. Edward recruits like senior Kipper Nichols (8 points) or junior Derek Funderburk (12 points) – scored 21 points, 10 of which came during the 29-6 run. Nichols sat for the vast majority of the game with foul trouble.
“They’re always going to have players, you know, they’ve got 2,000 boys in the school,” Kwasniak said. “They’re always going to have kids. They’ve relied on their depth for years, and that’s the trademark of a lot of St. Ed’s teams is you can’t really focus on one guy. (Knowles) was great.”
VASJ will look to rebound and snap the brief two-game skid on Feb. 27 when the Vikings travel to rival Cleveland Central Catholic in an attempt to win the NCL White Division title outright.