By Gary R. Rasberry
DELPHOS -- Considering the physicality of the game, it was quite appropriate that the St. Henry-St. John's basketball game be played on a Sunday, when football usually has the attention of sports fans.
The teams combined for 42 personal fouls and 43 foul shots in the game and it was the foul shots that helped sum up the game as well.
St. Henry shot just 42 percent from the line and missed four straight to start the fourth quarter, allowing the Blue Jays to come back and post a 48-45 win at Robert A. Arnzen Gymnasium in Delphos.
The loss puts the Redskins at 4-1 overall and 0-1 in the Midwest Athletic Conference while St. John's improves to 7-1 and 2-0 in the MAC.
St. Henry saw a lead that was up to as much as 10 points through the third quarter dwindle away in the fourth quarter. St. John's tied the score at 41 with 6:28 left to go in the game and took the lead for the first time since early in the game a minute later. The hot hands of the Blue Jays were just part of the woes for St. Henry. The Redskins missed their first four free-throw attempts and St. Henry was 2-of-8 in the fourth quarter and finished 8-of-19 in the game.
"Most nights we're going to shoot better than that," said St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp. "Part of it might be it was such a physical battle and it was so hot in here. We expended so much energy. I don't think we've shot under that much pressure this year. It was the first real battle we've had."
The Blue Jays, on the otherhand, were swishing free throws on their way to catching the Redskins, going 17-of-24 (70.8 percent) in the game. Senior Chad Reynolds was especially potent from the stripe. The 6-6 swingman was guarded close all night but began to drive and drew fouls. Reynolds made his first 10 free throws before finally missing one with 1:24 left to go 10-of-11 from the stripe on the way to a 16-point night.
"I think the free throws down the stretch were huge," said Blue Jays coach Brett Norris. "We got more aggressive. We got them in foul trouble and kept them in a situation where they couldn't use both big men (Huelsman and Toby Boeckman, who picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and had to sit)."
"We did too much fouling and put him on the line too much," Niekamp said of Reynolds. "They were a lot more comfortable at the line than we were."
The tide turned for the Redskins after seeing a double-digit lead drop to 38-35 at the end of three quarters.
Reynolds got things going with two free throws just seconds into the final quarter to make the score 38-27. Ross Niekamp put the lead to four with a long three with 7:14 left.
But that was the last time St. Henry scored until the 1:46 mark as the Blue Jays continued to drive and turned up the defensive pressure.
With the Redskins trying hard to get the ball inside to 6-9 junior Kurt Huelsman, St. John's used its undersized post players to defend. Six-one Matt Shumaker and 6-4 Kazz Bryan stayed behind Huelsman to prevent the lob. As soon as it looked like Huelsman was getting the ball, extra defenders collapsed.
Huelsman finished with 12 points but took just eight shots on the night. The foul line was also a problem as Huelsman made just two out of seven.
"We felt we couldn't front him, because that would open up the lob and we're not long enough to get to that," said Norris. "When you play behind a kid that's 6-9 and you have someone from 6-1 to 6-4, you're concerned. Our guys did a good job of getting down and helping. We put a lot of different bodies on him."
"They did a pretty good job," coach Niekamp said of the Blue Jay defense. "They were sluffing off (other players) and paying a lot of attention to him, which is typical."
Bryan and Reynolds hit more free throws, tying the game at 41 with 6:28 left. After several tries on both sides, Matt Webb hit a jumper from the top of the key to give the Blue Jays their first lead since the 5:27 mark of the first quarter. Nate Stahl tied things up with 2:29 left but Webb was fouled 10 seconds later going to the basket. Webb made both tried to give the Jays a 45-43 lead.
Jared Stammen tried a shot to tie the game but missed. Nate Stahl stripped Bryan of the rebound and went for the shot, getting fouled. Stahl made the first free throw to cut it to one, but the second went off the rim and right to the Jays' Michael Grubenhoff. Reynolds got the ball and was fouled.
Reynolds made the first to put the lead at two points but missed the second. Huelsman rebounded and was fouled. Huelsman made one of two to again make it a one-point game. The second shot was missed as Bryan rebounded. Ross Niekamp made the steal and called timeout to set the play.
The Redskins again looked for Huelsman, but the Blue Jay defense kept him from getting a good shot. Niekamp rebounded and put the ball back up, missing but getting his own rebound. After another timeout, Niekamp tried a 15-footer but missed. Stammen was fouled on the rebound with 20 seconds left.
Stammen missed both free throws as Bryan, who finished with 11 rebounds, pulled down the ball again. Niekamp immediately tied him up for the jump ball, which went to St. Henry. On the inbounds, Stahl tried a three-pointer but missed. Shumaker got the rebound and called timeout before going out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left.
Webb was fouled when the ball was inbounded and made both shots with 5.6 seconds left to make it a three-point game. Niekamp tried the long inbounds to a dashing Stahl, but the ball went out of bounds at midcourt. Bart Bergfeld was fouled on the inbounds but missed both shots with 2.4 seconds left. St. Henry, unfortunately, was unable to get a half-court shot off as the Blue Jay faithful celebrated the win.
"I told the guys they gave themselves several opportunities to win the game," said coach Niekamp. "It just wasn't our night. I think (St. John's) is a little closer to mid-season form than we were."
Webb added 13 for the Blue Jays and Stahl finished with 10.
Both teams are on the road Friday night as the full MAC schedule resumes after the holiday break. St. Henry is at Parkway while St. John's, the northernmost team in the MAC, travels to the southernmost team at Versailles.