Saints stressing defense

By Devon Jeffreys |

Flagler Men’s Basketball Coach Bo Clark knew his team would be able to put up points this season, but up until Saturday, he could see it was affecting his defense.

“I think we’re giving up too many points,” Clark said. “That’s one thing that I’ve really addressed with these guys, that is something we need to keep improving. If we don’t pick that up, it could be a long year.”

Clark’s Saints got the message and on Saturday they shut down NCAA Div. II Saint Leo of the Sunshine State Conference, 77-51. The Saints are now 3-2.

“I think our guys are ready to play with the Sunshine State teams,” sophomore center Ben De La Cruz said.

The Saints held the Lions to just 40.8 percent from the field and out rebounded them 41-35. It was the second time the Saints had held a team under 80 this season. The other was the season opening game, a 138-54 victory over Trinity College.

“Trinity was a good opening game, just like Florida opened up with us,” Clark said. “But we’re not going to be playing teams like Trinity.”

The Saints had six players in double- digit scoring against Trinity and shot more than 60 percent from the field. Lyndon Merthie led the Flagler scorers with 23 points in his Flagler debut.

Flagler’s problem has not been putting points on the scoreboard. The Saints are currently averaging 97.8 points per game, a statistic that is boosted by the Trinity game.

“We’re coming along,” Clark said. “I think we’re doing a real good job offensively. We’re shooting the basketball well. Our two biggest weaknesses right now are defense and rebounding.”

In their loss to Florida Southern, the Saints were out rebounded 44-24.

One reason for the Saints defensive struggles could be their fast-paced offense.

“If you’re playing that up-tempo style, you’re going to get tired defensively,” Clark said. “I realize that we’re also going to give up more points because there are more possessions.”

Scoring an average of 83 points in their losses, the Saints have been frustrated by opponents and could be a 5-0 team with a little more defense.

“I want play up-tempo style but you’ve got to be able to make some plays,” Clark said. “Eighty-six points should be enough to win a ball game.”

Also hindering the Saints has been a lack of depth that has come along with some injuries and the fatigue of playing a “Phoenix Suns-style” offense.

“We’ve got a lot of areas we’ve got to improve on,” Clark said. “We’ve got a few bumps and bruises but we’ve got to keep chugging along, improving each game.”

The biggest injury to hit the Saints so far has been Clark’s son J.P.

Named a co-captain and starting two-guard to start the season, J.P. is now sidelined with a hamstring injury. The timetable for his return is unknown, but it is likely to be after the holiday break. “Right now he’s out indefinitely,” Coach Clark said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be two games or if it’s going to be three weeks.”

The team’s other two captains have been prospering in the new offense. Bryan Borstelmann leads the team with 20 points per game and scored his 1,000th career point in the Trinity game.

Borstelmann also leads the team in rebounds at 8.4 per game and steals with seven. De La Cruz has been the Saints’ biggest post presence.

Averaging 13.4 points per game, the sophomore has been a dependable force for Flagler.

“Offensively we’re great,” De La Cruz said. “Everybody on the team from the top guy to the bottom guy can score.”

Also pacing the Saints has been the play of their freshman guards.

“I’ve been real happy with our guard play,” Clark said. “They’ve done a good job. DJ [Ferguson] and John [Pietkiewicz] are going to be real good freshman.”

Ferguson leads the team with 35 assists from the point guard position.

“Playing with people around me like Bryan who can shoot the three, everybody on this team can shoot,” Ferguson said. “Its different from high school. It’s nice having people like that around you.”

Pietkiewicz has been one of the key players in filling in for J.P. with 12.6 points per game.

His team has picked up its defense just in time to get on a roll.

“It’s a combination of picking up the defense and its also defensive quickness. We may end up more zone than I initially thought. Shooting the basketball and having defensive quickness are two different things. Just because you’re a good shooter doesn’t mean you’re good on defense.”

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