First-year Bishop Ireton boys basketball coach Neil Berkman stood in front of a reporter after a Dec. 9 game against St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes and answered a question like a man on the wrong end of lopsided loss.
"I don’t think we played well at all," he said.
Bishop Ireton won by 15 points. The Cardinals, playing on the road, scored a season-high 81 points, forced 21 turnovers and led the entire game.
It didn’t matter.
Berkman has his sights set on turning around a Bishop Ireton program that won 14 games in the three seasons prior to his arrival. From a record standpoint, the coach appears on his way to doing just that as the team’s 81-66 win over St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes gave them a 3-1 start under its new coach. But how the Cardinals finished against the Saints had Berkman steaming and looking at the bigger picture.
A 10-0 run gave Bishop Ireton a 19-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Cardinals later expanded that lead to 22 early in the fourth. But instead of burying the Saints, Bishop Ireton allowed them to chip away at the lead with hustle and rebounding.
Berkman called a timeout to share his displeasure with the Cardinals’ effort with 3:10 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"Are you guys serious?" the coach shouted rhetorically as his players gathered near the bench. "You guys can’t go get the ball? This is a joke. This is really hard to watch."
The Cardinals pushed their lead back to 18 before settling for a 15-point final margin.
"To [St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes] coach [Kevin] McLinton’s credit, the kids played hard to the buzzer," Berkman said. "They played hard all 32 minutes and our guys did not, and that I’ll take squarely on the chest. That’s totally my fault. We relaxed on the court and [that is] partially due to a negative frame of reference. We have a frame of reference of losing. A lot of times we say, ‘Here we go again,’ if a team like St. Stephen’s makes a run on us. … It’s one of those situations where we’ve got to start taking control of our own destiny and really controlling the game. We had a comfortable lead for awhile and we just have to develop a killer mentality and a killer instinct, which we’re still working on because we’re very young right now."
BERKMAN DID NOT have a senior in his starting lineup against the Saints. What he did have was the dangerous 1-2 scoring punch of Patrick Hanafin and Antonio Rouse. The junior duo combined for 43 points, including 25 in the second half. The 6-foot-4 Hanafin scored a game-high 26, connected on 9 of 13 shot attempts and went 4-of-6 from 3-piont range. The 6-foot-2 Rouse finished with 17 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Rouse attacked the basket aggressively and was rewarded with numerous trips to the free-throw line. He finished 10-of-12 from the charity stripe.
"Antonio, I think, is going to come into his own," Berkman said. "He’s one of our toughest kids on the team. … We count on Antonio to do a lot of things. … He’s a great slasher; he can take the ball to the basket. One of my goals for Antonio is to lead [the Washington Catholic Athletic Association] in free throws attempted."
Hanafin can score from anywhere on the floor. He also grabbed eight rebounds.
"Patrick is an excellent offensive player," Berkman said. "We’ve got to get him more sound defensively. He’s very versatile — he can guard the 2 through the 5. He’s got a chance to be a very, very good player. He has to change ends a little bit better, get his motor going a little bit quicker and really develop a burst-of-energy mentality."
Midway through the third quarter, Hanafin blocked a shot on defense, came down to the other end of the floor and buried a 3-pointer. The bucket capped a 10-0 run, gave Bishop Ireton a 49-30 lead and led to the Saints calling a timeout.
"I thought that was it," Hanafin said.
But it wasn’t, which helps illustrate Berkman’s point. The Cardinals had a chance to bury the Saints, but St. Stephen’s fought its way back into the game.
"My definition of playing hard and their definition of playing hard is very different," Berkman said of his players. "We are going to address that tomorrow night in practice."
What do the Cardinals need to do?
"We’ve just got to buckle down and go for rebounds," Hanafin said. "That’s what [Berkman] was mainly mad about; because [the Saints] had like 20 offensive rebounds. He was furious — throwing water bottles and stuff."
Hanafin said Berkman and his methods have made a difference.
"If you don’t do what he wants he’ll take you out and make you run at practice until you do good in practice," Hanafin said. "We expect to win more — and [Berkman] does. We put in a lot of work. He changed a lot."
Sophomore Marcus Hayes scored 15 points for Bishop Ireton and Marvin Elliott added 12.
ST. STEPHEN’S/ST. AGNES dropped to 2-2 with the loss. McLinton was not happy with his team’s effort.
"We didn’t come ready to play at the beginning and that was the one disappointing thing is that we understood how important this game was on a lot of fronts," the coach said. "Ireton is a good team, they’re in a good conference, they’re very well coached. The last couple days of practice I thought we were ready to play, but for some reason we came out flat."
The Saints trailed 20-6 at the end of the first quarter. They played well enough to stay within shouting distance, but couldn’t dig themselves out of an early hole.
"We kept playing hard but really didn’t come with our A game," senior Jack Hamilton said. "We really didn’t play our style of basketball."
Sophomore Justin Goldsborough finished with a team-high 12 points. Freshman Doug Chappell and senior Richard Pastorino each had 10 points. Freshman Jalen Williams had eight points.
"We’ve got to get better — that’s the most important thing," McLinton said. "The season is early and teams are still trying to find themselves as far as what their identity is, so we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do as far as our identity. I like this group, I think this group is talented — I think we have some young, talented players. But talent doesn’t win games all the time. You’ve got to compete and that was the disappointing thing — we just didn’t compete.
"… I thought some of our guys off the bench did a great job. I thought Richard Pastorino played his butt off. I thought Zeplyn Tillman came in and played a very good game. I thought Justin Goldsborough in the second half — he was in foul trouble in the first half — I thought he really exerted himself in the post. Those were three guys that I was very happy to see compete. I just have to get my other guys to play at that level. If we can do that and get everybody to play at that level, then I think we’ll be OK."