misfired on a half dozen shots on one possession. And so it went for
St. Henry against New Knoxville. Close, but just not enough in a 66-55
loss to undefeated New Knoxville in front of about 2,000 spectators.
ST. HENRY — It happened early in the second quarter. And it summed up the St. Henry Redskins’ night on Friday.
One minute into the second quarter, the Redskins came downcourt and misfired on a half dozen shots on one possession. And so it went for St. Henry against New Knoxville. Close, but just not enough in a 66-55 loss to undefeated New Knoxville in front of about 2,000 spectators.
“You have to shoot the ball great,” St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp said of what it’ll take to beat the Rangers. “Their defense was outstanding. We had some looks we just need to knock down to have a chance at a team like that.”
New Knoxville (16-0 overall, 7-0 Midwest Athletic Conference) led from the start — the only tie came at 2-2 — and led by double digits most of the way. An energetic crowd, led by a pair of fired up student sections, saw the Rangers’ quick-draw defense take control.
The Rangers used their quickness to jump in the passing lanes and help force eight first-quarter turnovers. They turned a handful into baskets for a 24-5 lead after one quarter. Junior center Brad Piehl scored New Knoxville’s first eight points. All five starters scored in the run and senior Austin Luck came off the bench for a pair of three-pointers.
“Playing in other arenas really gets you fired up,” Piehl said of the packed gym. “You live off their crowd, and not only your crowd. You hear their crowd yelling, they want their team to do better so you have to play just as hard.”
New Knoxville’s lead reached double digits (17-5) on Luck’s three-pointer with 2:23 left in the first quarter. It didn’t dip below 10 points until Spencer Niekamp’s basket with 6:19 remaining in the game. Four times the Redskins (12-5, 4-3 MAC) got within nine points. And each time the Rangers answered.
“Every time I started feeling comfortable with the game something would happen,” said New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier, who was happy with the road win but disappointed with his team’s 15 turnovers and foul trouble. “We really didn’t get loose balls tonight. That was one of the biggest problems I had with it right now. It’s a road game in the MAC and it’s a win.”
New Knoxville starters Tony Meyer (13 points) and Piehl (10 points) both spent several minutes of the fourth quarter on the bench with four fouls each. It was the Rangers, though, that benefitted from free throws. Forced to foul, St. Henry saw New Knoxville score 13 points from the line to hold off the Redskins. Ryan VanderHorst, who also finished with four fouls, led the Rangers with 16 points.
The win moved New Knoxville one win away from clinching at least a share of the MAC title. The Rangers, 42-1 the past two seasons, can clinch their second straight title with a win over Marion Local on Feb. 8. Marion suffered its first league loss on Friday when Minster pulled off a 43-41 upset.
“Our first goal is to try and win the MAC,” Hegemier said of also nearing a second straight 20-0 season. “I know I don’t care about (20-0) and I hope our kids don’t.”
Down as many as 19 points in the first half and 17 in the second, St. Henry unloaded from the outside. The Redskins made 19-of-48 shots overall (39 percent) and just 6-of-24 from three-point range (25 percent). New Knoxville, meanwhile, hit 21-of-36 overall (58 percent) and 5-of-12 on three-pointers (41 percent).
“We couldn’t string enough shots together to really get pressure on them,” Niekamp said. “Their defense has a lot to do with that.”
St. Henry senior Darren Siefring highlighted the Redskins’ second-quarter surge with 10 of his game-high 19 points. Ryan Wehrkamp added 13 points and Brent Prenger 11.
“There were some positives for us out there,” Niekamp said. “Our effort, obviously you can’t get behind on a team as good as New Knoxville is and expect to come back. But our kids never folded the tent. We snuck back in it and had some opportunities there.”