A quick first step and a determined approach paid dividends Saturday for the St. Ambrose men’s basketball team.
The Fighting Bees used an energy-filled effort to build a 22-point first half lead and then held on late at the line to fight off Calumet St. Joseph 94-88 in a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference game at Lee Lohman Arena.
The win avenged an early-season loss by 22 points to the Crimson Wave.
“We came out and started the way we wanted to, fast and really getting after it,’’ St. Ambrose sophomore Jake Meeske said. “We wanted to set a tone early and we got that done.’’
With John Kerr and Jalen Jones knocking down early three-point baskets, the Fighting Bees built a lead which reached 24-9 when Jones hit the first of two free throws seven-and-a-half minutes into the game.
St. Ambrose was relentless on the boards, out-rebounding the Crimson Wave 58-37 for the game and benefited from that work significantly in the first half.
The Bees held a 16-8 advantage in points in the paint through 20 minutes and collected 11 second-chance points.
“We wanted to pound the ball inside and when we put ourselves in a pretty good position,’’ said Jones, who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
That inside approach created plenty of opportunities at the free-throw line, where the Fighting Bees cashed in on 38-of-47 attempts including on 14-of-16 foul shots in the last 2 minutes, 25 seconds to secure the win.
“Coming off of a disappointing loss Wednesday, it was a solid win for us,’’ coach Ray Shovlain said. “We opened a decent lead, then the guys hung together against a pretty good opponent when they cut it to four late.’’
St. Ambrose opened a 46-24 lead late in the first half before Calumet St. Joseph pulled within 48-35 by halftime.
“A 13-point lead, that’s nothing in college basketball anymore,’’ Shovlain said. “Another stop or two or another basket and it would have been a little more comfortable, but we were able to earn it at the end.’’
Meeske scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, an effort he complemented with 10 rebounds and four assists.
The Crimson Wave (14-9, 8-8 CCAC) benefited in the second half from pressure which led to 26 turnovers by the Bees, takeaways which led Calumet St. Joseph to 26 points including 22 in the second half.
Two came on a basket by Michael Brooks which left St. Ambrose (13-13, 7-9) clinging to an 86-82 lead with :38 remaining in the game. Meeske and Jones hit four free throws over the next 14 seconds to help St. Ambrose secure the win.