Baye Fall’s long arms smothered the typically explosive offense of St. Mary’s. Then, those arms cradled the state championship trophy.
“I just decided to take it,” said the 6-foot-11 sophomore five-star recruit from Lutheran, explaining how he was the one to leave left the floor with the 3A boys’ championship trophy after a 72-56 victory over the Pirates on Saturday at The Broadmoor World Arena.
That go-take-it mindset and Fall’s long frame combined to make the second half a slog for a St. Mary’s team that had averaged 89.8 points per game in a perfect 16-game run to the title game.
“Just come out, be aggressive; just go get what we want,” said Fall, who has offers from Arizona, Illinois and Kansas, when asked about the halftime adjustments Lutheran (16-1) made as St. Mary’s jumped to a 27-24 lead after two quarters.
In the third quarter the Lions outscored St. Mary’s 25-5.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” St. Mary’s coach Jim Masterson said. “Even though we got a lot of turnovers (forcing 16 in the first half, 20 overall), we couldn’t score.”
The game-changing third quarter was also when the Pirates (16-1) played without freshman Max Howery, a freshman who is averaging 13.3 points. Howery committed his fourth foul 48 seconds in the third and went to the bench as the Lions began their onslaught.
Max’s brother, Sam, who entered the game averaging 21.3 points, scored a team-high 20 points despite facing man-to-man defense from Bale. But Sam Howery also shot just 28% (7 of 25) as the team struggled to make shots in large part because of Bale’s presence.
The Pirates prepared for Fall by giving a 6-5 assistant a racquetball racquet in practice to swat away shots. The real thing was still somehow worse.
“As much as anything it’s just more intimidating because every time you go up it’s just getting pinned against the glass,” said Luke Stockelman, who scored 17 for St. Mary’s. “And I think that got in our heads a little bit. We were going into brick walls up there and it kind of slowed down our game. We weren’t getting what we wanted and it kind of resulted in taking bad jump shots, and today they just weren’t falling.
“This is probably one of our worst shooting days of the season, and it sucks it is in the state championship, but everyone here was a great competitor.”
Masterson was pleased with the Pirate’s performance vs. Fall on the defensive end. By fronting him with Andon Mindrup — “the toughest guy on our team” — and trapping on the backside, they held him to 10 points, about 12 below his season average. Most of Fall’s points came on second-chance opportunities or in transition and not in the half-court offense.
Fall also had 11 rebounds and committed seven turnovers, as the raw nature of his game showed from time to time. The Senegal native didn’t start playing basketball until the age of 13.
Tommy Apodaca scored 22 points, including five 3-pointers, to give the Lions a boost on offense.
For St. Mary’s this was the first championship game appearance in 60 years. It just happened to be the Pirates’ misfortune to be matched against the kind of player who might only be seen at this classification about as infrequently.
Masterson said he had never seen a player as impactful as Fall in his 21 years of coaching in Colorado.
“He’s just a great player,” Masterson said. “The worst thing about him is he’s only a sophomore.”