High school boys basketball: Branham breaks 1,000 points as St. Vincent-St. Mary routs Richmond Heights

Michael Leonard
Akron Beacon Journal
St. Vincent-St. Mary's Malaki Branham (22), shown earlier this season, broke the 1,000-point barrier during a win over Richmond Heights on Monday night.  [Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal]

AKRON — When you play at LeBron James Arena, reaching the status of legend requires a lot of effort.

Malaki Branham knew that when he moved from Columbus to join St. Vincent-St. Mary's basketball team.

He doesn't have his name on the arena yet, but the senior guard keeps ticking the boxes to become an Irish legend.

Branham broke the 1,000-point barrier for his career Monday, leading the host Irish (3-1) to a 70-57 win over Division IV state power Richmond Heights.

"I didn't know I had it," Branham said. "I knew I had a chance for it this year. I'm blessed that I've been able to score 1,000 points."

STVM coach Dru Joyce heaped praise on Branham following the victory.

"He's in the top tier of players that we've had here," Joyce said. "When he came in here, he wasn't ranked by anybody [as a prospect].

"He went from unranked in the top 300 to a top-20 or 15 prospect, depending on which service you ask. That just speaks volumes about the work he's done over the last four years."

The Columbus native, who will return to central Ohio next year to play shooting guard at Ohio State, had plenty of help Monday as the Irish blitzed the Spartans in the first half. Active hands on defense led to a ton of turnovers and layups for STVM early on.

"We did a great job in the first half," Joyce said.

The Irish forced 15 first-half turnovers and held Richmond Heights only 18 points in the first half..

"It's the turnovers," Spartans coach Quentin Rogers said. "It's been that way all year for us. We're giving up 23 points a game on turnovers. A lot of that is just gelling. With transfers and quarantines, it takes a little while to gel."

The Spartans dropped to 0-3, but Rogers said he isn't worried, considering those losses have come against St. Vincent-St. Mary, Lakewood St. Edward and Cleveland St. Ignatius.

"I prefer us to grow against the best teams," Rogers said. "I prefer to play on the road and see where we are. This is all just data collection for me."

The data from the first half was pretty much all Irish.

With guards Sencire Harris and Austin Rayman hitting from deep early, the Irish raced out to a 15-5 lead before Rogers called a timeout with 3:13 left in the first quarter.

The onslaught didn't stop, however, as the Irish continued to shoot well and turn steals into points. A steal and a dunk by Harris put the exclamation point on 41-18 halftime lead for the Irish.

Joyce knew it wouldn't stay that easy.

"It's kind of hard if you have that kind of success to come out and continue it," he said. "That's a good team. They're going to compete for a Division IV state title. They came out in a little zone against us."

Indeed, the zone slowed the Irish down a bit, and allowed the Spartans time to find their outside shooting touch.

After a scoreless first half, Spartan guard Jamarr Talbert nailed two 3-poinersto lead Richmond Heights on a 13-3 run to start the third quarter.

Despite the run, Joyce lauded his team for remaining composed. And STVM turned the run around by going back to their main man.

"Coach said that if we got to the foul line, the zone would collapse," Branham said. "I was lucky enough to hit some shots."

In fact, that's how Branham reached 1,000 points. A jump shot in the lane with 2:40 left in the third quarter gave him his 17th and 18th points and the Irish headed to the fourth quarter with 55-36 lead.

Richmond Heights cut the deficit once the Irish started emptying their bench in the final quarter, but the lead never went below double digits and STVM did a good job of holding the ball for more than two minutes at the end to ice it.

Branham finished with 25 points, five rebounds and three assists, Rayman added 11 points and Harris had 10 for the Irish.

Richmond Heights was led by forward Josiah Harris' 16 points, eight of them which came in the fourth quarter.