With three sophomores in its starting lineup and only two seniors on the team, St. Peter's Prep understands that its learning curve is still long and fairly forgiving.
But the trick to success, it seems, is pretending as though it is not.
St. Peter's overcame several youthful mistakes earlier in the second half with clutch, veteran-like play down the stretch from sophomore guard Austin White and senior forward Tyrone O'Garro to upset Don Bosco Prep, 52-48, Sunday afternoon at the Scholarship Fund for Inner-City Children Basketball Festival at Kean University in Union.
"We’re a young team, but when we work together and do the things in games that we work on all the time in practice, we can be good," White said. "We just have to stay tough, stay confident and keep hustling."
Simple, time-tested solutions, for sure, but ones that sometimes get complicated when youth is trying to mature against quality competition. Don Bosco Prep, which also has a liberal sprinkling of non-seniors, entered at 6-2 and No. 15 in The MSG Varsity Top 15. St. Peter's Prep, ranked earlier this season, earned a third straight win to improve to 6-2.
The 5-11 White played a significant role with a game-high 21 points and critical free throws in the final minutes to survive a strong rally effort by Bosco. He sank 6 of 8 from the free throw line in the last 3:37 after Bosco had seized a 46-44 lead on a three-point play from Jemal Mosley off a steal by Paul Jorgenson with 4:01 to go.
White tied the game at 46-46 with two free throws, opened a 50-48 lead with two more with 1:05 left and made it a four-point game by hitting two more with 20.9 seconds remaining. He was fouled again with 5.9 seconds left, but missed both.
"It's all about focus," White said. "The last two were probably ones I could have made and should have made. I just have to focus more on the game and what's left to play."
The 6-6 O'Garro is likely to help White and his other young teammates maintain concentration under stress. The Monmouth-bound senior helped restore control inside as Don Bosco made its late push. He scored on a strong move underneath and hit the subsequent free throw to forge a 44-40 lead with 6:42 to play and produced another tough basket off a putback that knotted the game at 48-48 with 1:35 remaining.
"We have just two seniors on the team, Tyrone and Freddie Jones, but they're two great players," White said. "They kind of help our younger guys get through everything. They help us out a lot."
Junior forward Jordan Arthur did his part, too, for St. Peter's with eight points and a game-high 14 rebounds, including four in the final quarter. O'Garro pulled down 10 boards to help give the Marauders realize a 34-24 edge off the glass.
"We really have a lot to learn. Too many turnovers," Arthur said. "We made a couple bad plays at the end of the game, but it's all going to click when we pick up the chemistry and we really start to mature as a team. You can see it coming."
St. Peter's recently lost backcourt stability when junior guard Tre Bell decided to leave the team last month to concentrate on football. He is a Division 1 prospect at defensive back. But the Marauders will beef up again along the perimeter when junior transfer Trevis Wyche (St. Patrick) becomes eligible Jan. 16 after sitting 30 days.
Senior guard Paddy Quinn scored 11 points and Jorgenson, DaJon Todmann and Tom Sweeney all netted eight for Don Bosco Prep. Todmann also collected seven rebounds.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS