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Depth carries wounded St. Mary's past Kirkwood into title game

By David Kvidahl, 12/30/17, 1:30PM CST

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Kirkwood falls in semifinals

KIRKWOOD • The St. Mary's basketball machine lost two starters and kept right on rolling.

Down starting point guard Yuri Collins and starting shooting guard Tony Burks, the Dragons held off Kirkwood 62-56 in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Tournament on Friday at St. Louis Community College -  Meramec.

The No. 1 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.comrankings and top seed, St. Mary's (12-0) advanced to defend its tournament title against No. 2 seed Hazelwood Central (12-1) at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The No. 4 seed, Kirkwood (7-1) draws No. 3 seed Jennings (8-2) at 6:30 p.m. in the third-place game.

The Dragons won Friday's battle of unbeatens because of their depth of talent. Few teams can lose their three-year starting point guard and hold on. Even fewer do it without their four-year starting shooting guard.

“We go in with the motto plug in and play,” St. Mary's coach Bryan Turner said. “I still have to see what I've got. There's a trust factor that has to keep coming. We want to give guys an opportunity in big, meaningful game.”

Collins injured his left shoulder during the fall. He missed the season-opening tournament at Alton, but upon returning remained his all-around dominant self despite wearing a brace. Midway through the fourth quarter, he reached in to poke the ball away and his shoulder gave out.

“This is the first time it's popped out. It was a shock,” Collins said. “I've been protecting it, rehabbing it and icing it. It's getting stronger, but it's not fully there yet.”

Before he went to the bench, Collins showcased why he's among the top point guards in the state. He finished with 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. The fast and furious Dragons got up and down in a hurry, but Kirkwood showed it could run, too.

The Pioneers' dynamic backcourt of Damien Loyd and Jaylen Phipps stuffed the stat sheet. A junior point guard, Loyd scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. He banked home a half-court heave to beat the buzzer to cut St. Mary's lead to 33-27.

A freshman shooting guard, Phipps scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds. He threw down a monster dunk that put the Pioneers in front 38-37 with 3 minutes and 8 seconds to play in the third quarter. He hit one of two free throws to give Kirkwood a 41-38 lead, its largest of the second half, with 1:55 remaining in the third.

It didn't last long.

Collins scored a layup and then senior guard Lavell Harris knocked down a transition 3-pointer and in the span of 30 seconds the Pioneers went from a three-point lead to trailing by two.

St. Mary's led 47-41 at the end of the third.

“They're very good for a lot of reasons. They impose their will whether it's offense or defense,” Kirkwood coach Bill Gunn said. “They keep you off balance. I thought that we had some really good moments and did some really good things.”

Burks scored eight points and had four rebounds, two assists and two steals before he took an elbow to the nose from Kirkwood's 6-foot-8 senior forward Leondre Clay with just more than four minutes to play in the third quarter. Burks bled so profusely the game was delayed for several minutes to allow for cleanup.

With Burks lost, senior guard Dominic Mitchell went for 11 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals. Senior guard Miles Jones had 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Senior post Yahuza Rasas scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds.

“Me and Tony, we're starters but our bench is loaded. We had Donovan and Lavell step up and make plays down the stretch,” Collins said. “I wasn't worried about us coming out. We've got other veterans that have been with us and do what they have to do.”

Collins and Burks are expected to be game-time decisions on Saturday. Collins said if it were up to him he'd play. But it's not up to him.

“I think I'll be able to play, but it depends on what my coaches think,” Collins said.

St. Mary's depth has buoyed it all season as Collins missed time early in the season. Rasas was suspended for the mercy-rule win over CBC after he received two technical fouls the game prior. So far the Dragons have overcome every obstacle in their path. It's impressive but Turner wonders how much stress his players can take as they run the gauntlet of the tournament.

“It's a long stretch for these guys with four games in four days. At some point their legs are going to go. We can't keep playing this style of play and not expect certain things like shooting, rotations, things like that (to suffer),” Turner said. “It's good to know we've got guys we can throw in there, give us good stretches and make plays when it's time to make plays.”