STC’s experience too much for Tigers
ELDORA – It was a friendly reminder down the stretch.
And a sense of pride when it was over.
“We’ve been here before,” South Tama County boys’ basketball coach Lonnie Hammond said, recalling the mantra his players repeated from the bench and in the locker room.
Coming off a double-overtime defeat against West Marshall Tuesday, the Trojans (6-8, 5-6) seemed calm and collected in the closing moments of another down-to-the-wire battle Friday, holding off South Hardin 52-48 in NICL West action.
South Hardin’s Bryce Zeisneiss led all scorers with 19 points and his final bucket knotted the game at 48-all with 1:33 left, before the Trojans’ composure helped them hang on down the stretch. Grant Koch and Sam Kuhter combined to hit 4-of-5 free throws and the South Tama defense forced a couple turnovers to earn a sweep over the Tigers.
“We just couldn’t score down the stretch,” South Hardin coach Adam Weig said.
“We had some good looks, we just didn’t make them.”
While the Tigers (5-10, 3-8) had a couple mental miscues late, the Trojans stuck to their plan.
“We didn’t panic,” Hammond said.
“We told the guys, ‘just keeping making simple plays, make your free throws and we’ll be fine.'”
The Trojans hit 13-of-17 free throw attempts on the night – including a 9-for-11 effort in the fourth, while limiting South Hardin to 7-of-9 for the game. It was point of emphasis for the Trojans after allowing the Tigers to shoot 16 free throws in their previous meeting.
“Last time we put them on the line quite a bit,” said Hammond, whose squad limited the Tigers to just two attempts in the fourth, both misses.
“Tonight we did a much better job. Ultimately, that became the biggest difference down the stretch.”
Kuhter paced the Trojans with 16 points – evenly spreading his points between the halves as neither team led by more than six throughout.
Zeisneiss was a force inside early scoring the game’s first six points and eight of the Tigers’ 14 in the opening frame as the home team led by four after one. Though after the fast start, the Trojans were steadily able to move the Tigers’ big man off his spot more in the second half.
“He started posting up at 8 to 10 feet instead of 4 like he was in the first half,” Weig said. “(Ian Slagle) played physical on him and didn’t let him get position.”
A transition basket from Clay Waterbury gave South Tama its first lead at 22-20 midway through the second and the Trojans closed the half on a 6-0 run to lead 30-25 at the break.
Jose Fonseca drilled a 3 early in the third to give the Trojans their largest advantage, before Eric Mulder answered with one of his own to close the gap to 37-36 with 2:30 left in the quarter.
Mulder added a steal and layup to give the Tigers their final lead at 46-45 early in the fourth. Neither team led by more than three over the final 11 minutes until Kuhter’s final pair of free throws spelled the final margin.
“Tonight wasn’t a night where one person stood out,” Hammond said. “Everyone made little plays along the way.”
Fonseca tallied 11 points for South Tama, while Slagle and Koch added eight apiece.
Mulder had 11 points for South Hardin, and Glendon Mesch and Logan Jeske each came up with six.
The Tigers start a three-game road trek Friday against East Marshall. The Trojans face Wapsie Valley on the road Tuesday, before hosting BCLUW Friday.
The Trojans won the previous matchup 74-59 in Tama Dec. 11.