Men’s basketball preps for Battle of the Saints

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Men’s basketball preps for Battle of the Saints

Junior James Stukes came to the Hilltop from New York.

Junior James Stukes came to the Hilltop from New York.

Junior James Stukes came to the Hilltop from New York.

Junior James Stukes came to the Hilltop from New York.

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The Hilltopper men’s basketball team has had a season of highs and lows, but with a record that looks to best last year’s. The team is preparing for their upcoming game against St. Mary’s on Valentine’s Day during Homecoming week.

While the Hilltoppers are ranked seventh in conference, the team still has a chance to make it into playoffs if they play their cards right.

St. Edward’s had a surprising comeback against Dallas Baptist University, DBU, on Feb. 7 on the Patriots’ court, thanks to a few clutch plays. 

Junior James Stukes, a transfer player, came off the bench for the Hilltoppers against DBU. Stukes put in eight-straight points, which put the Hilltoppers on an eleven-point streak. Junior Chris Wacker had the game-winning three-point play that closed the game, 65-63 over the Patriots.

“When our starters are substituted out, we don’t miss a beat as a team,” Wacker said. 

St. Edward’s lost their second game on the road that weekend against Oklahoma Christian University. The Hilltoppers opened with a six-point lead, but ultimately lost to the Eagles 84-78. 

“We played hard and competed. Both games came down to the end,” Stukes said.

Despite hot and cold streaks, the team has made progress overall, especially over last year’s 3-11 conference record. This year, the team already has a 3-5 conference record, and the Hilltoppers are only looking to improve.

Recently, the Hilltoppers defeated Harding University, which is ranked 18th in the nation for Division II NCAA men’s basketball teams.

“We definitely won some important games. That’s big progress,” Stukes said. 

The team usually takes an annual trip to play in Hawaii, during which the boys get to play ball, travel and see some sights.

“The highlight for the season so far has to be our Hawaii trip.  We had a great time on the trip by seeing Pearl Harbor, experiencing Hawaiian culture, and going to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church as a team.  We also won all four of our games against top competition and Shimeek Johnson broke the 1000 point mark on the trip,” Head Coach Andre Cook said.

Wacker, a returning veteran, has seen the team’s struggles over the years, but he also sees the team’s heart and drive for success.

“I have seen our team grow this year in the way we play … This year, we play with an unshakable confidence,”

Wacker said.

The St. Mary’s game will certainly test the Hilltoppers’ resolve, as the Rattlers are a conference rival and were last year’s Heartland Conference champion team. 

The team has a healthy confidence about seeing the Rattlers again.

“This week, we are approaching the game like we do each game on our schedule,” Wacker said. 

Coach Cook recognizes the importance of this Homecoming game against St. Mary’s, but also plans to prep his team for this game just like he does for all games: by studying tapes of St. Mary’s in action.

”St. Mary’s is very good.  1We will prepare for them like we do for all our opponents.  We will watch at least 3-4 game tapes of St. Mary’s, we will edit the games for our guys so they can see specific things,  we will have a strategy that we will implement during the week, and we will give them a scouting report for them to study,” Cook said. “Twenty-six games into the season, the guys know the drill.  It is an extensive amount of work to prepare for one game, but it is needed to win in this league.”

The boys must win this game to make it into the Heartland Conference final four.

Stukes has another reason to be excited about the Homecoming game: he’s getting meaningful support.

“My father is coming down from New York City, so this has to be a good week for me. I’m excited,” Stukes said.

The women’s team plays at 5:30 p.m. and the men’s team plays at  7:30 p.m on Feb. 14.