Thursday’s word of the day – at least for Lloyd – could’ve been, “historic.”
The Juggernauts likely enjoyed the 1.5-mile trip down Donaldson Road because they defeated St. Henry, 64-56, at Holbrook Hall behind Jeremiah Israel’s career-high 32 points.
Maybe more important than the win was the milestone Lloyd added – the first time in program history the Juggernauts clinched the top seed in the 34th District tournament.
“I think it was really important not just for our team, but for the whole school, the community in general,” sophomore EJ Walker said.
Lloyd coach Michael Walker said being the top seed means more to him than the players.
“Because this is my third year, and building up this program, it means we can compete with any team in the region, let alone the state,” he said, though he changed his mind a couple minutes later and said it was both.
Israel, who’s headed to Northern Kentucky University next season, was not the lone Lloyd (13-7, 4-0 in district) double-figure scorer. Walker added 14 points.
“What I do really well is get around the rim,” Israel said. “And (Thursday), my shot was falling early on, so it opened up a lot for me, whether it was the pull-up (jumpers), the cuts (to the rim) ‘cause they was overplaying. The 3s were there, too.”
Michael Walker said Israel’s been significantly more composed.
“He’s starting to understand patience and letting the game come to him and finding spots on the floor,” Walker said. “(Opponents) are so worried about our size, that it opens up spots for him to score the basketball.”
A celebrity, at least among basketball cognoscenti, was in the stands – Louisville assistant coach and University of Kansas and NBA star Danny Manning.
“I talk to him a couple times a week,” Walker said.
Louisville is one of at least 10 schools looking to land the 6-foot-8 Walker. Top-ranked Purdue, Minnesota, Xavier, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Dayton, Texas, Ohio State and Indiana are said to be interested.
Braden Fedders led a quartet of Crusaders in double figures with 17 points. Ethan Kaiser had 12, Matt Resing had 11, and Jack Grayson added 10.
Coach Walker said the strategy against Fedders was to keep him off the low post and force him to set up closer to the free throw lane and away from the rim.
The first quarter featured two ties and three lead changes. For every Walker 3-pointer (he knocked down two in a little more than four minutes) and Israel three-point play, St. Henry (10-10, 3-1) countered; Kaiser’s 3 and a free throw put the Crusaders ahead, 15-13 with 1:01 to go.
But Lloyd had Israel. His bucket put the Juggernauts ahead, 16-15, after eight minutes.
By halftime, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking Israel and Fedders were everywhere.
Israel’s two free throws, two 3s and a 2-pointer, combined with Elijah Collins’ left-wing 3, gave Lloyd a 31-27 lead, but Fedders matched it when he knocked down two long, far ones, the last at the buzzer.
The result: Lloyd, 31-30.
Three minutes into the third quarter came the defensive play of Lloyd’s year to date, which looked a little like LeBron James swatting Golden State’s Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. When Kaiser went for a layup, Walker rejected it from behind.
St. Henry closed to within 45-43 buckets from Grayson, Resing and Kaiser, and the defense shut down Lloyd over the final 2:07.
The Juggernauts subsequently shut out St. Henry.
After Israel opened the fourth quarter with a field goal, Lloyd followed with Walker’s 1-and-1, Isaiah Sebastian’s free throw, Israel’s bucket and Walker’s two free throws. The 9-0 run put the Juggernauts ahead, 54-43, while St. Henry did not score for nearly five minutes.
“We went to a 2-3 (zone defense) for a couple possessions,” EJ Walker said. “They hit a couple shots, so we switched back to a man.”
Thursday’s win was just Lloyd’s second over St. Henry in eight meetings since 2018. (The other was a 68-55 triumph in last year’s 34th District tournament at Ludlow.) Though the schools are just a five-minute drive apart, Coach Walker wasn’t sure a rivalry’s brewing.
“Is it a rivalry?” he said. “We’ve got to win a couple more games against them to make it a rivalry.”
LLOYD 16 15 14 19 – 64
ST. HENRY 15 15 13 13 – 56
Lloyd (64) — Collins 7, Sebastian 7, Walker 14, Israel 32, Blaackar 2, Cooley 2. 3-Pt. FG: 7 (Israel 4, Walker 2, Collins). FT: 12-19. Fouls: 14 . Fouled out: None.
St. Henry (56) — Shea 4, Kaiser 12, Grayson 10, Resing 11, Fedders 17, Lemmond 2. 3-Pt. FG: 5 (Fedders 2, Resing 2, Kaiser). FT: 11-15. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: None.