Saints look to build on first half successes as they return from break in 2024
Despite entering the 2023-24 season with a lot of new faces and facing a challenging schedule, the Central Christian College of the Bible men's basketball team still managed plenty of highlights during the first half of play.
The Saints ended 2023 with a 6-7 overall record after a 107-100 victory at home over the NAIA foe University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy. The Eutectics handed Central Christian a six-point loss in St. Louis the month before.
The win ended a four-game skid by the Saints against a combo of NCCAA Division II and NAIA opponents. Prior to that, Central Christian had just put together dramatic-finish wins against Maranatha Baptist University and NCAA Division III member Westminster College.
"We've had some success early on, but we've also had some nights where we felt like if we could have limited our turnovers by just one or two then we could have a couple more wins to our name," Central Christian coach Jack Defreitas said.
The Saints had two chances to pull off a road win at Hannibal-LaGrange University in November, but a turnover and a missed shot on their final two possessions resulted in a one-point loss.
However, that setback may have helped the Saints down the stretch when they needed baskets in the final possessions of their wins against Maranatha and Westminster the following week.
"I think it absolutely helped us," Defreitas said. "We are playing with one senior, and just three players who have ever played together. I do believe each game that goes by gives us a chance to get better."
Through 13 games, the Saints are being led by sophomore Raheem Brizendine with 18.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Closely behind is junior Quincy James, Jr., who is just 40 points away from scoring 1,000 for his career, at 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest.
Sophomore guard Trey Palmer is averaging 13.3 points per outing, while a few other Saints have notable stats at the break. Sophomore guard Tristan Brand is shooting 50 percent (16-for-32) from 3-point range for ninth in the NCCAA DII. Junior guard Chris Woods is averaging 3.3 assists per game and ranks 16th in assist/turnover ratio, while James, Jr., ranks 10th in blocks with 1.5 per game, and Palmer is sixth in steals with 2.5 per game.
As a team, Central Christian ranks fourth NCCAA DII in field goal percentage (47.6), fourth in blocks per game (3.9), sixth in points per game (85.1), eighth in rebound margin (3.1), ninth in steals per game (9.1), and 10th in assists per game (15.7).
The Saints return to action on Jan. 6 with a tough task as they travel to defending NCCAA DII national champion Kansas Christian College. KCC, ranked No. 10 in the latest DII coaches poll, won the first meeting between the two teams, 104-89, on November 29 in Moberly.
Following the game at KCC, the Saints travel to Union College (Neb.) on Jan. 9, then return home for the start of Midwest Christian College Conference play against Ozark Christian College on Jan. 11.
"We're excited to get back out on the court," Defreitas said. "I love this group of guys. They are hungry, and a team with a lot of potential. It's going to be exciting to see what we can do during the second half of this season."