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Dan Weber: A Lot to Like About this Thomas More Basketball Team

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

There’s a lot to like about this Thomas More basketball team.

Even Justin Ray, the Saints’ demanding coach in his fourth season at the Crestview Hills school, admitted as much after Monday’s 100-65 Connor Center romp over Shawnee State’s defending national champions.

“Those dudes beat us three times,” Ray said, “that’s the team that sent us home.” No way he was going to feel sorry about what happened to the Ohio team on this night even if they were a bit short-handed with injuries and illness. 

After all, the visiting Bears did manage “to score 36 points and shoot 44 percent” from the field in the first half, Ray said a bit grudgingly. “That’s not necessarily Thomas More basketball.”

OK, Ray added, “We did score 100 points,” including 60 in a record-setting first half that saw the Saints shoot 75 percent from the field (24 of 32) led by – as they almost always are – do-everything Ryan Batte’s 21 points.

This one-sided result won’t hurt the No. 13 NAIA Saints’ (12-2) national ranking or their first-place spot atop the Mid-South Conference at 6-1 in the league.

For the game, in just 29 minutes, Batte – a self-described but soft-spoken “nightmare matchup” at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, scored 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting with eight rebounds as he roamed the floor on offense.

“A stretch post,” the Cincinnati Oak Hills product calls himself. He can start the offense at the point while finishing it posting up on the low blocks or maybe “getting downhill from the wing” – sometimes on the same possession. He’s also “a willing passer,” he said twice including some nifty feeds with his off hand from the left side.

“I want him to shoot it even more,” Ray says of the redshirt junior transfer from Ashland who showed up at the post-game presser carrying the game ball. “He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Ray says. “He’s tough. He’s physical as hell. He’s strong as hell.”

But on a TMU team that goes eight-deep and can speed up the game when Ray sends in the bench, Batte has plenty of help. Freshman Casey George, a 6-foot guard from Pickerington, Ohio, gave the Saints the first bump in his 25 minutes, scoring 13 points, and bringing energy and physicality. Along with another freshman, Wyatt Vieth from St. Henry, George is an example of how this TMU team is different from a year ago.

When the ball goes up, especially on offense, “Go get it,” Ray says is the game plan, “don’t get back.” And so in this game, George and Vieth combined for six rebounds as TMU outrebounded a longer, rangier Shawnee State team 33-23 while grabbing 12 offensive rebounds.

TMU may not be bigger at 6-6, 6-8 and 6-5 up front most of the time but the Saints feel like they can slug it out with anyone when the ball goes up on the board.

“We work at it,” Ray says. “You get what you emphasize.” And for this team, the emphasis is “Go get it,” he says.

Then put it back in the basket. Although on this night, when you hit a record 75 percent the first half and 62.1 percent (41 of 66) for the game, you don’t get many chances to do that.

Jacob Jones, a quick 5-9 transfer from Green Bay out of Jeffersonville, Ind., was one of those who did get his shot, in just his fourth game at TMU, hitting on three of four from the field in 13 minutes.

Having Batte on your side makes it easier, Jones said. “He’s the best player in the league. They have to double him.”

And when they do, scorers like 6-4 Luke Rudy and 6-5 Reed Jolly, with 12 points each, and 6-8 Noah Pack (seven points, eight rebounds) take advantage.

But they all have help, if it’s allowed. Like few other teams we’ve seen, the Saints seem comfortable playing fast and getting the early offense layup or they can run the shot clock until the final 10 seconds in their half-court offense with plenty of help from the bench counting down.

“We work on that too,” Ray says of the emphasis on shot selection and the countdown. And while Ray himself takes care of critiquing the shots (“Sometimes they take it personally,” he says), the entire bench loudly counts down. So much so that one official warned Ray his bench had better be careful or they might get a technical for their clock work “10, 9, 8, 7 . . .”

TMU is back in action Thursday at the Connor Center in a doubleheader against Campbellsville (9-5, 2-4 in the Mid-South) although the feature game will be the 6 p.m. women’s opener between national No. 1 Campbellsville and No. 3-ranked TMU.

Box score: 

SHAWNEE STATE (7-6, 2-5): Thomas 7-0-20; Wells 1-2-4; Abergut 1-2-5; Guice 6-2-19; Carlisle 5-0-10; Bishop 0-0-0; Beard 1-1-3; Cooper 2-0-4; TOTALS 23-53 6-9 65.

THOMAS MORE (12-2, 6-1): Batte 13-3-29; Rudy 4-1-12; Swackhammer 1-0-2; Bertsch 2-0-5: Pack 2-2-7; Jolly 6-0-12; Howard 1-1-3; Vieth 3-2-8; Jones 3-0-7; George 5-2-13; Miller 1-0-2; Schneider 0-0-0; Vogelpohl 0-0-0; TOTALS 41-66 8-11 100.

-Dan Weber
Photos provided by TMU Athletics
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