It’s not as if the Charlotte Catholic boys basketball team needed any extra motivation to win a state championship this season. The Cougars had all the necessary desires, not to mention talent and size, long before their disappointing loss to Olympic High last week.
But what the Cougars walked out of their jam-packed gymnasium with on Jan. 13 was a clearer picture of how to attain their state-title goals.
Charlotte Catholic succumbed to the talented, physical and relentless Trojans, 83-66, in a contest that drew so much interest that, when the bleachers were filled more than an hour before tip-off, some fans had to sit in the aisles, and a number of would-be spectators were kept from entering the building altogether because of a lack of space.
For much of the battle between MEGA 7 3A/4A conference foes, Charlotte Catholic was out-run, out-shot and out-hustled. And while the defeat was humbling for the Cougars, who still are regarded as one of the best Class 3A teams in the state, they expect to be even better after learning some hard lessons from Olympic, a squad heavily favored to bring home a Class 4A crown this winter.
If anything, the Cougars (12-3, 5-1) now are more optimistic than ever.
“I think (the loss) absolutely helped us,” Catholic coach Mike King said. “To play in an atmosphere like we did against a team like that, you can learn a lot from it. And that’s what I told (our) guys they need to do: Take the (painful) feeling that they have, sit on it for a little while and understand that, to beat a team like (the Trojans) – as talented and well-coached as they are – you have to have that last little ‘it.’
“Olympic is not only talented; they play harder than anybody we’ve played. And that’s what we have to realize: To get to the level that they are, you’ve got to do that every single night. They don’t relax out there. They’re going for the throat every time. They’ve got that killer instinct.”
Not that the Cougars failed to play with fervor against Olympic. Despite the 17-point margin of defeat, Charlotte Catholic rallied on numerous occasions, including just after halftime, when they whittled what had once been a 15-point first-half deficit to one. But Olympic had the wherewithal to increase its lead back to double digits within minutes.
“Before the game,” King said, “I really felt that whoever got those ‘50-50’ balls – the loose balls, the long rebounds and things like that – was really going to make the difference – and (the Trojans) got to probably 75 percent, 80 percent of them. We had a couple of stretches where we were able to get those, and it showed; we were able to get back in the game and get close. But then we’d miss it by a little bit here, a little bit there, and (the Trojans) would get out in transition. And when they get out and run, they’re awfully good.”
Again, more lessons learned – things the Cougars said they planned to apply this week as they entered non-conference games against Charlotte Country Day (Jan. 17) and Providence Day (Saturday, Jan. 21), and a league contest versus MEGA 7 opponent Garinger (Friday, Jan. 20).
“I think what we saw against Olympic is that we need to improve on the defensive end,” said Catholic star Robert Champion. “They put up over 80 points on us, and we’ve been holding teams under 70. It’s tough to compete with a team when they’re able to score like that, and we’ve got to play defense, box out and limit teams to one shot.”
One problem Catholic hopes to avoid as the season moves forward is going long stretches without scoring. Such droughts were critical against Olympic, especially when the Cougars’ two leading scorers – Champion and Mark Pollack – began to struggle offensively.
Champion led Catholic with 18 points while making a respectable 44 percent of his shots (7-for-16). Entering the Olympic game, however, he was making 57 percent of his field goals, including a scorching 58 percent of his 3-pointers (43 of 74). Against Olympic, Champion was 0-for-2 on 3-pointers.
The 6-foot-7 Pollack made both of Catholic’s 3-pointers in the game and pushed his season accuracy from beyond the arc to 49 percent. Against, Olympic, though, he was 5-for-13 from the field with 15 points.
But despite all the things the Cougars will take from last week’s loss, senior guard Jack Brodowicz said one of the best things the team can do is forget about the ugliness that took place.
“I think it’ll be easy for us,” said Brodowicz, who had eight points on 4-for-9 shooting. “Yeah, every loss hurts, but you’ve got to let it go. We’ve got some big games coming up. If we can just get back on the winning track, we’ll be fine.
“After any game like that, with a big crowd and a home game in a tie-breaker for the conference, our team is going to grow after that. That’s been our goal all year – to get better and better. We’re going to keep winning.”
In so many ways, the Cougars were better against Olympic than they’d been all season. For instance, against Olympic, they committed 11 turnovers, which was below their average of 15.2 miscues per game. Catholic made 49 percent of its field goals against Olympic, which was a slight improvement over its season average of 48 percent. And for the season, the Cougars are averaging 61.8 points per outing; against Olympic, they scored 66.
“For certain stretches of the game, we certainly could play with Olympic,” Pollack said. “We just have to find a way to do that for a full game. Hopefully, we’ll put up a better fight over at their place at the end of the season.
“We certainly believe that we can go out and compete with anybody in the city of Charlotte. And hopefully in the state playoffs.”