ST.CHARLES, Mo.—The St. Louis RiverSharks rode strong play on the interior to a 108-96 win over the Gateway Steam in the MPBA Opener Friday night. The RiverSharks led wire-to-wire in large part thanks to the double-double posted by starting forward Keith Dewitt.
The minute finalized lineups with heights and weights were posted the laziest analysis would have had the RiverSharks as the favorite over the undersized Steam. The RiverSharks have four players over 6-7, including the 6-10, 235 pound Dewitt. The Steam started a 6-7 Mike Gills as their big.
That disparity would rear its head from the opening tip.
Dewitt won the opening tip to RiverSharks guard Brandon Hogg, ran the floor, and caught a half-court lob from Hogg at the rim for the first basket of the MPBA. This would be an omen of things to come. Dewitt spent much of the first quarter catching the ball wherever he wanted and displaying some impressive athleticism with an up-and-under for a three-point play and a baby hook from the right block over a Steam defender.
Steam Head Coach Durrell Robinson countered by having his team front the post and applying more pressure on the ball up top to cut down on the touches to some mild success in the first half. The Steam still trailed at the half 62-45.
Early in the third quarter, the RiverSharks pushed the lead out to 21, but the Steam refused to go away quietly coming back with their own 8-0 run. The Steam had the lead down to a manageable nine points with 2:30 to play in the period, but an empty trip to the free throw line by the Steam started a run for the Sharks. The Sharks finished the quarter on a 10-1 run, thanks in part to the Steam’s complacency settling for jumpers.
The RiverSharks’ lead hovered around the final margin of 12 for most of the fourth quarter. However, there were some exciting moments late. The Steam’s swarming full court press wreaked havoc in the final two minutes. A steal and alley-oop to Chad Fortenberry cut it to 12. Fortenberry slammed home an offensive rebound at the 1:25 mark to make it 106-96, but that would be it. A monstrous dunk by Dewitt capped the scoring and his 30-point, 11-rebound night.
The Steam were ultimately outrebounded 30-16 in the game. Couple that with a poor shooting night— 41% from field, 29% from 3, 52% from the free-throw line— and that is a deadly combination. With their size, the Steam’s recipe for success is going to have to be relentless pressure defense (11 steals in the opener is certainly a good sign) and being efficient from the field. Turning the ball over only five times before the offense has been thoroughly drilled into their brains is definitely a good omen, but the threes are going to have to fall if they are going to fill up that win column.
There is no doubt St. Louis Head Coach Al Grushkin has to be happy with what his team did from the field last night, shooting 51% overall and a respectable 33% from three. Losing the turnover battle so handedly (12-5) is a little disconcerting and having multiple eight second violations has to be infuriating, but 8 offensive rebounds makes that go down easier.
Considering the Steam and RiverSharks held a joint tryout 20 days ago and they lost practice days with the holidays, they both played remarkably clean. It will be interesting to see how differently the matchup plays out when these two meet again in three weeks.
Sunday both teams are back in action with a doubleheader at the Family Arena. The RiverSharks kick things off at 1 PM against the Bloomington Flex. The Steam will take on the Chicago Force at 4 PM. Fans can see both games for the cost of one ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the Family Arena box office.
Keith Dewitt 30 pts, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
Terry Leak 23 pts, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
Brandon Hogg 18 pts, 3 rebounds, 3 assists
Jake Anderson 20 pts, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 4-6 3FG
Brandon McGill 12 pts, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals
Terrell Williams 12 pts, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal
For full stats visit theMPBA.com.
(Photo by Tim Kaiser)
Follow me on Twitter, @TimJKaiser