The St. Xavier Rams fell to the visiting Manhattan Chief Thunder Saturday 25-74 inside a filled gymnasium at the school.
Despite the one-sided victory coach Ronald Merriweather said he was proud of his teams efforts and no quit attitude on display throughout.
“We have a couple of guys that never really played basketball before, so they are learning on the go, and I'm proud,” he said. “They have definitely impressed me as far as not quitting, they haven't quit and they continue to put forth the effort and I'm proud of that.”
The larger Chief team showcased what could be for the Rams as they rolled out early to a 6-0 lead forcing Merriweather to call a timeout to refocus the team.
Sophomore Tyler Engstrom found the scoreboard first for St. X moments later on his way to a team high 10 points, five in the first quarter.
Senior Youngmin Jeon and junior Brady Sexton-Snow also scored in the quarter as the Rams fell behind 9-29.
Fouls started stacking up in the quarter as both teams committed a combined 15 fouls in the opening 8-minutes, eight for St. Xavier.
Turnovers, passing errors and rushed shots led to eight points in the second quarter, including a bomb from outside by sophomore Jacob Copas, one of two 3-pointers on the night for the team.
The team struggled throughout the first half against a stingy press defense on display by Chief throughout the first quarter and into a hard man coverage in the second.
During the short break at the half, Merriweather said he tried to boost the confidence level of the players.
“We just talked about, coming together, playing strong basketball and not being nervous,” he said. “My guys, they get a little nervous, especially in the first half, with a crowd and the cheerleaders and the other team. They get nervous when they see all of that. So, we got to get out of that.
“(I) just told them that we are a second half team,” he added. “All year long we played better second half. So, I reiterated that we are a second half team and we're going to come out and play better in front of our home crowd.”
Down 17-52, after the break the Rams continued to fight to find themselves on the court against a stronger, more experienced team. Five points were added for the Rams in the turbo clock frame while Chief added 14 points including a buzzer beater toss from near mid-court that found the mark.
St. Xavier added three points in the final frame, Engstrom (1) and junior Aleric Briseno (2).
The Rams travel to Flint Hills Christian this week before returning home Thursday for homecoming against Heritage with tip off slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and 6 p.m. Thursday.
Merriweather laid out his plans for practice this week to prepare them for the challenges ahead.
“We've got to work on handling the ball — I can't say it enough,” he said. “We've gotta handle the ball better. If we can't handle the ball we can't run a play, we can't do anything. So, that's our main key is handling the ball.”
This season the Rams have had some close games, within five points of their opponents several times and Merriweather said one game everything will click as they continue to learn the game together.
“We've got, like I said, a pretty young team,” he said. “We've got some very inexperienced players, but we're going to get better, we're gonna hang in there and we're gonna surprise some people.”