As Junior Etou glanced over at the opposing St. John’s players during warmups before their Tuesday contest, the O’Connell senior could sense a big game brewing. Not one of the Cadets came within three inches of Etou’s 6-foot-7 frame, making for an advantage he would exploit from the opening seconds, when he wheeled for an easy bucket in the paint, to the final buzzer, when O’Connell secured its seventh straight win.
Etou finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, marking his fifth double-double of the season and leading the eighth-ranked Knights to a 83-75 victory in Northwest Washington.
“Coach Wootten told me to use my size to my advantage tonight and just rebound the ball and be aggressive on offense,” said Etou, a transfer from Florida.
Etou’s post presence forced the Cadets (6-2, 2-1 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) to sag on defense, allowing guard Melo Trimble to take advantage from the outside. With Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon looking on in the stands, the recent Terps commit scored 10 of his game-high 30 points in the first quarter to help O’Connell (7-0, 3-0) jump out to a 26-20 lead.
“It’s great having Junior because I don’t have to work as hard out there because he opens things up on the floor,” said Trimble, who drained six three-pointers.
But the Cadets rallied in the second quarter, using their own sharpshooting to combat the Knights’ size. Tre Campbell (22 points) and Darian Anderson combined for 12 points to briefly give the Cadets the lead before entering halftime tied at 39.
The three-point barrage continued in the third, as Trimble made consecutive shots from downtown to put the Knights back up, 51-47. Etou and Leroy Butts took it from there, sparking a 12-3 run on an array of post moves and offensive putbacks.
“We kind of got away from going inside in the second quarter, so I reminded the guys of that at halftime and once we went back to it, we were able to retake control of the game,” Knights Coach Joe Wootten said.
O’Connell also readjusted defensively, extending its 2-3 zone to limit the Cadets’ opportunities from the outside. Two late three-pointers by Campbell brought the Cadets within six in the final minute, but the Knights sealed the win by sinking 7 of 8 shots from the foul line.
“That was an excellent team win for us with a lot of guys contributing,” Wootten said. “Junior attacked around the rim using his size advantage and that opens up things outside for a great shooter like Melo. Butts was also big with some buckets and we hit big free throws at the end. With that type of effort from everyone, we’ll always give ourselves a great chance to win.”