WILMINGTON – Brian O'Neill continued his dominating inside play, scoring a career-high 32 points as Salesianum defeated St. Elizabeth, 74-66, Thursday night at home. O'Neill followed up Tuesday's 15-point, 18-rebound performance against Sanford with another monster game, hitting 15 field goals against the Vikings to go along with two free throws for the No. 2 Sals, who improved to 12-2.
The 6-7 senior served notice early on that this was his night. After St. Elizabeth took a 2-1 lead on free throws by freshman Malik Curry, O'Neill scored the next two buckets. The Vikings retook the lead on baskets from Curry and Brandon Gautier, but the Sals would score the next 13 points, taking an 18-6 lead they would never relinquish.
O'Neill said the team stayed with its normal routine and game plan after the win against Sanford. “We were pretty aware that we had just come off a big game and we didn't want to have any letdowns.”
Salesianum extended its lead to 22-9 on the first field goal of the second quarter when Donte DiVincenzo followed a missed basket with a rebound jam, drawing loud cheers from the Salesianum students in front of him. The lead was 12 when O'Neill went to the bench with 2:40 to go in the half, and St. Elizabeth responded with a 7-1 run and trailed by just six, 37-31, at the half. St. E's senior Joseph Piekarski led the charge, scoring nine of his 16 points in the second.
Any doubts about the outcome were erased in the third, as the Sals began the quarter with an 8-0 run that included a steal and dunk by DiVincenzo, plus another steal and fast-break layup by Shane Clark. Salesianum would lead, 63-46, at the end of three, and all five starters would be on the bench before it ended.
DiVincenzo returned in the fourth as St. Elizabeth cut the deficit to single digits, but the outcome was never in doubt. O'Neill returned for a few minutes and added his final five points. DiVincenzo, who finished with 23 points, said it is important to get everybody on the roster some meaningful minutes.
“It's very important because every day at practice they work hard and push us, and a couple of them are juniors so going forward for next year, it's going to benefit them,” he said. “They got the opportunity to play tonight, and they did well.”
O'Neill had five field goals in the first and third, three in the second and two in the final quarter. He scored off offensive rebounds and on passes he was fed down low. He demurred when asked if he is playing his best basketball since arriving at Salesianum. The sole focus, he said, is the team.
“I like to think our team's playing the best basketball since I've been here. That's the goal, to get better every game. Our trend line has been going up since the beginning of the season as a team, and that's the most important thing, without a doubt. Our goal is to win a state championship. If we keep taking steps like we did tonight and the last couple days, we should be in pretty good shape,” he said.
Curry led the Vikings with 19 points. He was joined in double figures by Gautier, with 17, and Piekarski, who had 16.
The Sals begin a busy week with their next game, which is Monday at 5:15 p.m. at A.I. DuPont. They also play next Thursday and Saturday. St. Elizabeth, which fell to 3-9, returns to action Saturday at home at 1:30 p.m. against Smyrna.