His Sacred Heart squad fell behind early, but battled back before losing 66-51 to defending state champion St. Jude in the Class 1A boys state semifinals. The loss ended the Cardinals' first appearance in the Class 1A Final Four.
“We had a pretty good year, but we’re still hungry for the championship,” Graves said. “We don’t believe in moral victories at Sacred Heart, and if you do then you can’t play here.”
Graves didn’t use St. Jude’s size as a reason for his team’s loss, though the Pirates start three players who are 6-foot-8, 6-6 and 6-4. St. Jude also hasn’t lost to a Class 1A team since the 2012 state semifinals.
“We’ve seen that type of size this year. Spain Park had a 6-8 and 6-9. ... I think (the loss had) more to do with us throwing the ball around," Graves said. "You have to give them credit for capitalizing on it.”
St. Jude (23-5) capitalized throughout the entire first half, taking a 23-7 lead to the second quarter and a 36-17 advantage at the break.
“We weren’t nervous,” Sacred Heart guard Kevion Nolan said. “We just didn’t execute.”
Sacred Heart (25-7) found its footing in the third quarter and rallied. Graves said he knew it’s difficult – but possible – to make a comeback of that magnitude, and the Cardinals managed to cut the advantage to single digits. They sliced it to nine at one point in the fourth quarter but couldn't get closer.
“We thought if we got up by 20, we’d break their will, but they kept playing,” St. Jude coach Earl Taylor said. “That shows what their coach puts in ’em.”
Diante Wood and Nolan led Sacred Heart on a 16-4 run from the 5:34 mark of the third quarter to the fourth. The hot shooting helped cut the deficit to 46-36 heading to the final period. Sacred Heart trimmed it to 48-39, but the rally lost steam after that, and St. Jude managed to close out the win.
Wood led the Cardinals with 16 points and 12 rebounds. D.J. Heath added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Quen Williams had 10 points and Nolan scored nine.
St. Jude received double-doubles from Tommy Burton, Jacob Winston and Andrew Rogers. Winston had 16 points and 13 rebounds, Burton had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Rogers had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Sacred Heart has Heath, Nolan, Williams and Wood returning next year, all four having at least two years starting.
“This was good experience for this being our first time,” Wood said. “Coming back next year, we’ll know what it’s like to play here and we’ll be ready.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.