By Gary R. Rasberry
ST. HENRY -- St. Henry used solid defense to shut down two-thirds of the New Knoxville Rangers' high-scoring trio to get a 46-36 win at Redskin Gymnasium.
The win puts St. Henry at 15-2 on the season and 5-2 in the MAC. The Rangers lose its share of the MAC lead and drops into a group of four teams with two league losses at 5-2.
The Redskins used solid defense to keep the Rangers in check for most of the night. One of the most interesting matchups was putting 6-9 Kurt Huelsman on 6-1 Dustan Kruse, the Rangers' leading scorer.
Kruse did get 20 points in the game -- three above his season average -- but could not get into a regular rhythm as Huelsman stayed with him for most of the night.
"Kurt did a real nice job on him," said St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp. "We actually didn't start on him that way. It was just a little bit better matchup early on having one of our guards on (Kruse), but (putting Huelsman on Kruse) was something we talked about all week long." While Huelsman kept close to Kruse, the rest of the Redskins put the other four Rangers on ice. Double-digit scorers Josh Niemeyer and Ross Stienecker were held to five and four points each as only four Rangers other than Kruse scored in the game, none of them more than five points.
"We did a good job on defense, but we only had one person score for us tonight," said Ranger coach Dan Hegemier. "Josh Niemeyer got his teeth knocked out. It took a lot of courage to play the rest of the game -- he has to go to a dentist right now or his front teeth will fall out. We told the kids we have to have someone else to score. We ran a whole page full of stuff, nothing worked. We had shots that didn't go down. Give St. Henry credit."
"It was obviously the type of game where you had to play defense to win," said coach Niekamp. "It was going to be a low-possession game, that was obvious early. You have to give a lot of credit to the kids for getting into the stance and showing the willingness to play defense, guard the flex and cut down the looks the guys got, particularly with Kruse."
The game was physical as the Rangers tried to find a way to keep Huelsman -- who was being watched by University of Dayton head coach Brian Gregory -- and fellow postmate Toby Boeckman in check despite being decidedly undersized.
The plan worked for most of the game on Boeckman, who was held to four points in the first half and eight points total. Despite getting double- and triple-teamed when getting the ball, Huelsman finished with 17 points in the game.
The secondary key for the Redskins after its defense was the help that the bench played in getting the points that Boeckman and Ryan Ranly -- who was held to two points -- usually get on a regular basis.
Mitch Niekamp did his part early. The junior hit a big three-pointer as the Redskins were in the midst of a 10-0 to end the first quarter, putting the team up 15-8 after the first eight minutes. With the 6-5 Niekamp, who finished with 10, giving the Rangers even more matchup concerns, the Rangers also left Andy Puthoff open for a pair of three-pointers in the game.
The bigger spark came in the third quarter as the Rangers made a run and cut the lead to 25-21 with less than a minute left. Tyler Post came off the bench in the closing seconds and nailed a three-pointer with three seconds left from the corner and triggered another 10-0 run for the Redskins.
"That was a big momentum changer," said coach Niekamp of Post's three. "Someone said, when he came in, it was a four-point game. When he left, it was a 15-point game. He played, really, an outstanding floor game, too. He got the ball into the post and had a couple of steals on the defensive end by just being active."
With other Redskins getting into the scoring, that took a lot of pressure off Hueslman, who connected on four straight field goals in the fourth quarter to put St. Henry up as many 17 points before the Rangers cut it back to 10 at the end of the game.
St. Henry is on the road this evening, playing Van Wert in a 6 p.m. jayvee start. New Knoxville remains on the road, traveling to Lincolnview tonight.