Personifying athletic prestige, a polished stroke and a desire to be great, the Rangers have themselves a basketball player that fits the description.
It wasn’t enough that freshman forward Jeremy Saffold led all players in points and could probably boast a jaw-dropping highlight reel; Thursday night showcased the young superstar’s ability to take over a game in the limelight.
After a disappointing defeat to the men’s basketball team Sunday at the hands of Rockhurst, UW-Parkside (1-1) (4-4) hosted Great Lakes Valley Conference powerhouse University of Missouri-St. Louis (1-1) (6-1) at DeSimone Gymnasium in Kenosha, WI.
Saffold’s 24 points, four rebounds and three blocks propelled Parkside to a 74-65 upset over the Tritons which signified its first win in the circuit.
“We came on the court tonight anticipating a big win,” said Saffold, the recruit from Hazel Crest, Indiana. “I felt really comfortable and the timing was there.”
Pressure defense by the Tritons set the tone early as Parkside demonstrated no offensive fluency. Even with an impressive 19-8 run midway through the first half, the Rangers failed to sustain any type of consistency.
Parkside sophomore guard Sam Katula provided a crucial spark off the bench with eight points during the run. Junior teammate Zack Blesich also performed admirably in a reserve role finishing with six points and solid post defense.
Featuring a fast-paced offense oriented game, both squads surpassed 50 percent shooting in the first half. In addition, bench production epitomized Parkside’s success as it logged 14 points by halftime, aiding the 40-35 advantage.
UW-Parkside opened the second half with a newly acquired confidence.
“It definitely took a little time to get settled in,” Parkside head coach Luke Reigel said, “but we learned from our mistakes and made the proper adjustments.”
Fired up freshman Ryan Callozzo drained a couple shots from behind the arc to extend Parkside’s lead to double-digits, 58-48. He also facilitated the offense by chipping in four assists and anchored the front-court defensively.
Courtesy of a stellar low-post presence in center Zach Redel, the Tritons clawed their way back utilizing their physicality. Redel, who had 19 points and nine rebounds, controlled the paint.
As both teams traded baskets, Saffold scored seven straight points capped off by an electrifying slam dunk. Two possessions later, he sent Missouri-St. Louis’ guard Beaumont Beasley’s lay-up into the glass with a demoralizing block.
Following his own defensive brilliance, the forward buried a deep three from the left wing in a pivotal moment, putting Parkside ahead 70-63 with 1:34 remaining.
“When everyone on the bench saw the ball leave his hand, we knew it was going in,” Reigel said. “Jeremy has two main things going for him: he works extremely hard and he wants to be a great player.”
Almost everything that left Saffold’s fingertips found its way through the iron as he finished with an efficient 9-of-11 from the field, 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
Knocking down jumpers down the stretch, sophomore Grant Johnson contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Prior to Thursday night, the guard was ranked sixth in the league in scoring (19.3 ppg).
In a non-conference showdown tipping off at 7 pm, Thursday, Dec. 10, the Rangers remain at DeSimone Gymnasium where they host Clark College, an NCAA Division III institution from Dubuque, Iowa.
According to Reigel, “When different guys step up throughout, we can beat some very good basketball teams. That’s exactly what happened tonight.”