Tyrique Vesey prides himself on his defense.
The senior led Davenport Central with 55 steals last season, averaging 2.6 per game but hadn't started as strong this year, with just six takeaways through his first four starts.
He ramped it up Friday night, causing total havoc on the court in the Blue Devils' 59-54 MAC win over Assumption at George Marshall Gym.
"I felt like I was slacking this year so I just picked it up this game," said Vesey, who scored a game-high 19 points and pocketed at least six steals. "I'll pick it up the rest of the year."
Vesey's defense was there all game, but was at its height when the Blue Devils needed it most. Holding a tight 45-43 lead with 7 minutes, 25 seconds remaining, Vesey and teammate Ray Miller forced the Knights into consecutive turnovers on inbounds plays. That allowed the Blue Devils (4-1, 3-0) to open up a 49-43 lead in just 20 seconds, and pad that to a 54-43 cushion midway through the quarter.
Even though Assumption had 15 total turnovers in the game, the Knights (2-3, 1-2) dealt with the aggressive Central press defense well for most of the game, but the flurry early in the final quarter was too much to overcome in the game's final minutes.
The Knights gained possession trailing by five points with 17 seconds left but their final three shot attempts were either blocked or contested by the Blue Devils defense.
"That defense is relentless and you cannot prepare for it, even when you watch it on film," Assumption head coach Matt Fitzpatrick said. "Until you're live and you see how active they are, the deflections, the steals and the ground those kids can cover, it's tough."
Assumption battled all night with the Blue Devils, and twice had three-point leads in the final minute of a quarter. But Vesey hit a buzzer-beating 3 to tie the game 27-27 at halftime, then Tirique Randolph did the same as the horn sounded in the third quarter to again tie the game at 41 apiece.
"It's like a big kick, it really gets you going, a jumpstarter," said Randolph, who scored 14 points. "We were really flat the whole game and then finally kicked it in ... our performance was good, but it could be better."
The Knights were led by sophomore Dylan Peeters, who had 15 points off the bench while Trenton Wallace added 14. Liam Robbins had a game-high eight rebounds for Assumption.
After what was a tightly-contested, back-and-forth game, both teams have to now reset quickly with the Genesis Shootout today.
"I thought the fourth quarter, we played much more aggressive and played to win and I thought in the first half, we were playing not to lose," Central head coach Craig Wurdinger said. "All those little things helped us to gain some energy."