St. Joseph hopes win over St. Ignatius revives frustrating season

St. Joseph's Kyle Thomas (24) looks for help against St. Ignatius in their 45-43 overtime win in Chicago, Friday January 25, 2019. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

The clock at St. Ignatius, set to four minutes at the start of overtime Friday, wound down to zero in a hurry.

St. Joseph held the ball for 90 seconds, only to commit a charge. St. Ignatius missed a chance on the other end, which St. Joseph rebounded. And then the visiting Chargers held for the last shot. Reggie Strong missed the first look, but Markus Becton snagged the rebound and laid it in with six seconds left to win an at-times painful, at-times dramatic game.

“The only thing I can say is we won the game — we didn’t do anything right,” coach Gene Pingatore said. “We weren’t running our offense, so I said, ‘Let’s just hold it. If they’re not going to come out and get us, then let’s just hold it.’ We were very confused on what we were doing.”

St. Joseph (9-12, 5-5 Catholic-Blue) entered the night having lost five in a row, despite the presence of Strong — a junior Farragut transfer with college offers from the likes of Saint Louis, DePaul and SIU — and 6-8 freshman center Kyle Thomas, among other intriguing pieces.

“The season could be a lot better,” said Thomas, the son of late Montini coach Daryl Thomas. “There are some games that we lost that we should’ve won, some games where we lagged, some games where we were awful.”

Friday, at least, the Chargers’ disorganized but talented bunch showed some spark.

The defensive effort was stellar: Christian Davis led St. Ignatius (11-12, 2-8) with 16 points, but St. Joseph held all his teammates to single digits. Offensively, Strong (14 points) hit four three-pointers, Thomas tallied nine points and seven rebounds, and Becton finished with 10 points after the overtime winner.

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Strong said he’s had a difficult time adjusting to Pingatore’s college-style system and structured practices, coming from the more run-and-gun city league. He’s also had to adjust to a move from shooting to point guard, which requires him to use his right off-hand more.

“I’m getting used to it — I’m not used to stopping practice every second. It’s a big transformation,” Strong said. “He wants me to be an attacking point guard — he wants me to pass it but, if anything, he wants me to be aggressive towards the rim. He opens up my whole game.”

Thomas’s height was a major weapon for the Chargers on Friday, as he helped the visitors win the overall rebounding battle 27-17 and also easily won the opening tip of overtime, giving St. Joseph the extra possession that ultimately made the difference. He’s gone from 5-11 to 6-8 in a year’s span, and he’s still growing.

Much of that natural height is thanks to his father, who stood at 6-7 during his days as a St. Joseph star. Thomas said he’s worked to channel his feelings of sadness and nostalgia from his father’s death last March into his game.

“I thought about all the good things he did for me, all the things he taught me, all the times he took me to his camps — three, four camps a day,” he said. “Towards the end, we’d always joke him about him coaching me, going downstate, winning it all, being nationally ranked. And that that’s not happened, I have that burden on my shoulder, where it’s like now I actually have to do it. There’s nothing else I can do.”

Things aren’t going to get any easier in Westchester the rest of the way. The Chargers battle DeKalb on Saturday, and still have matchups against DePaul, St. Laurence, Brother Rice, Payton and others left on the schedule.

Pingatore’s patience — which he admits is not plentiful to begin with — has been sorely tested this winter. But he still has hope for a rally down the stretch.

“It’s been a struggle to execute and be organized and all that kind of stuff. (We have) a lot of young players, although it’s past the midway point and you think we’d be better,” he said. “I’m the guy who’s the eternal optimist: I think we can beat anybody we play. I’m hoping I can convince them of the same thing.”

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