By Zach Shugan
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The St. Francis boys basketball team has won state championships the past two seasons and made it to the state finals six of the past seven seasons. So when the Knights, who entered the 2020 season ranked No. 1 in Class A-Private, recently dropped to 1-7 overall and fell out of the top 10 rankings, it came as a shock to many, including the Knights themselves.
St. Francis looked like its old self on Friday night, as it took down new No. 1 Mount Pisgah at home for its first win in 2021. The Knights used big runs in the second and third quarter to overcome an initial deficit and win by double digits, 69-55.
“We’re used to winning,” St. Francis head coach Drew Catlett said. “I think were was a little pride and determination of ‘Hey, we’re St. Francis. Let’s go play St. Francis basketball.'”
Senior Jusaun Holt posted 20 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in the win for St. Francis (2-8, 2-5), aided by fellow senior Kai Simmons (12 points, 12 rebounds and 1 assist) and junior Drew Robinson (16 points, 2 rebounds).
Junior Kasheem Grady (18 points) and senior JoJo Peterson (15 points) led Mount Pisgah (14-6, 10-1), which dropped a region game for the first time this season.
Mount Pisgah led 19-16 at the end of the first quarter, as Grady hit two three-pointers in the game’s opening minutes.
St. Francis went on a 17-5 run to open up the second quarter, as Holt began turning up the heat for the Knights. The Alabama signee finished with 14 points in the first half, including three hits from long range, as St. Francis took a four-point lead, 39-35, into halftime. He had help from Robinson, who hit four three-pointers, and Simmons, who grabbed eight rebounds in the opening half.
After the break, the Knights picked up right where they left off. Simmons scored three times inside the paint to start the second half, kicking off a third quarter run for the home team. St. Francis extended its lead to 56-41 by the end of the third quarter, putting Mount Pisgah in a crumby situation and taking away all the momentum the Patriots had acquired earlier in the game.
“We scrapped tonight. We fought. That’s what I like to see,” Catlett said. “We had some emotion, had some enthusiasm and we had some legs back under us.”
The Knights held onto their lead in the fourth quarter to take down No. 1-ranked Patriots and get back in the winning column for the first time in a long time.
“It’s been tough, so this feels good,” Catlett said. “This is good for our players to get some confidence back. It’s a good win for us.”
St. Francis started the season 4-3, a lackluster record for a team with such high expectations, but still a winning record. Then, the Knights had to pause team activities for two weeks due to quarantine. Once they were cleared to resume, their opponents for the next two weeks had to postpone. To top it all off, St. Francis had to pause team activities for another two weeks at the start of the new year.
In total, the Knights went 45 days without playing a game.
As if it couldn’t get any worse for St. Francis, junior transfer Keith Robbins was deemed ineligible while all this was happening, and the Knights had to forfeit the games he played in. Suddenly, the preseason No. 1-ranked team had a 1-7 record.
In their return to action last weekend, the Knights fell at the hands of King’s Ridge, dropping their record to 1-8 overall.
St. Francis has a chance Saturday to avenge that loss, too, as the Knights will head down the road to play No. 10 King’s Ridge (12-2, 8-2). The Tigers won Jan. 23 in the first matchup between the neighbor schools, marking their first win over the Knights in program history.
Regardless of the outcome Saturday against King’s Ridge or the Knights’ record at the end of the regular season, Catlett feels confident his group will make some noise in the postseason.
“The overall record doesn’t matter,” Catlett said. “We just have to win as many region games as we can from here on out and then do well in the region tournament. Anything can happen in the state tournament. If you get hot in the state tournament, it doesn’t matter what your regular season record was.”
Following their rematch with King’s Ridge, the Knights play three region games next week against Lakeview Academy, Fellowship and Weber.
Mount Pisgah plays Saturday at Mt. Bethel and has three games next week, including two against Pinecrest (5-5, 5-3).
St. Francis Knights
Jusaun Holt (Sr.) – 20 pts, 9 reb, 7 asst
Drew Robinson (Jr.) – 16 pts, 2 reb
Seth Hubbard (Jr.) – 14 pts, 4 reb, 1 asst
Kai Simmons (Sr.) – 12 pts, 12 reb 1 asst
Jaden Young (So.) – 3 pts, 1 reb
Toby Gaynes (Sr.) – 2 pts, 2 reb, 1 asst
Davell Wright (So.) – 2 pts, 1 blk
Mount Pisgah Patriots
Kasheem Grady (Jr.) – 18 pts, 4 reb, 1 asst, 1 blk
JoJo Peterson (Sr.) – 15 pts, 7 reb, 3 asst, 1 blk
Chase Tucker (Sr.) – 6 pts, 2 reb, 1 asst
Garrett Sutherland (Sr.) – 4 pts, 2 reb, 1 asst
Gabe Carter (Sr.) – 4 pts, 2 reb, 1 asst
Nick Speros (Sr.) – 3 pts, 3 reb, 1 asst
Nate Gordon (Sr.) – 2 pts, 3 reb, 2 blks
M.J. Winter (Jr.) – 2 reb, 1 asst
Benjy Tucker (Jr.) – 2 reb