A spirited Minster fourth quarter comeback fell short…too big a deficit…in a Friday MAC loss to Delphos St. John.
Minster – First-year coach Mike McClurg and his Minster Wildcats faced a tall challenge Friday night. And Tim Kreeger, the 6-foot-8 senior standout from Delphos St. John’s, was just the half of it.
The Wildcats won the opening minute of the Midwest Athletic Conference game on their home court. But over the next eight minutes the Blue Jays – behind their big man in the paint – quieted the crowd with a 15-0 run. Kreeger’s spin moves in the paint helped him score seven of his season-high 24 points in the Jays’ scoring spurt.
The St. John’s rally lasted until Minster junior Andrew Broering dropped in a three-pointer with 5:19 left in the second quarter.
St. John’s led by double digits the second quarter in what could have been a rout. But Minster – which trailed 34-20 with 2:44 left in the third quarter – rallied instead.
“Our kids battled in the second half. The first half I thought we played scared,” McClurg said. “I think our guys need to develop a little more mental toughness. … They came out and punched us in the mouth. We didn’t have anybody that wanted to step up and do something about it. We finally got a little bit of that in the second half.”
In the second half, the Wildcats used a three-pointer from junior Jared Huelsman, a basket by 6-8 sophomore forward Jarod Schulze and a pair of scores by junior Isaac Schmiesing – one attacking the basket and another a three-pointer – to pull within 36-29 with 6:11 left in the game.
“We talked about it at halftime that they would come out with more energy and make it difficult, which they did,” St. John’s coach Aaron Elwer said. “Give them credit for that. Our inability to make free throws … we let a lot of opportunities go by and Minster jumped on that to make things tighter than probably what they should have been.”
Kreeger dropped in a soft jumper with 1:30 left to give St. John’s a 44-36 lead. But again Minster responded – with an assist from the friendly home rims. Senior Aaron Ernst’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, off the glass, back off the rim and in to make it 44-39. Minster pulled to 44-41 after a turnover in the backcourt led to a Huelsman score with 50 seconds left.
St. John’s missed the front end of bonus free throw situations three times in the final 46 seconds. That gave Minster one final gasp with 5.4 seconds. The Wildcats, inbounding the ball in front of their own bench, managed an off-balance three-point attempt that missed everything at the buzzer.
The win was the first for St. John’s in the MAC, moving the Blue Jays to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the MAC. Minster fell to 4-3 overall and 1-1 in the MAC.
Also for the first time this season Kreeger faced an opposing player as tall as he is. Minster’s Schulze found early foul trouble in the first half, but responded in the second half. Kreeger, who shot 10-of-24 from the field, also had six rebounds and two blocks.
“I think people try to be physical with me because they think I’m a little skinnier,” said Kreeger, who said he’s still researching his college options and is split 50/50 on whether he’ll play football or basketball in college. “I don’t let it get inside my head. I like contact. … I didn’t even know they had a kid that size until earlier this week.”
“He’s an experienced guy but this is the first time he’s gone against a guy 6-8,” Elwer said. “He’s done it before, but this is the first time this year he’s had someone equal to him in height. … I thought their big played much better in the second half and caused a little trouble for us.”
St. John’s sophomore Jared Wurst grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, helping the Blue Jays to a 30-20 advantage.
Schulze led Minster with 10 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Mike Ketner also had five rebounds. Ernst scored eight points and senior Bryce Schmiesing had five assists.
It’s tough to call games this early in the season must wins, but St. John’s needed this one to stay in the MAC chase. St. John’s dropped its season opener 67-54 to Versailles and lost 56-55 in overtime to Fort Recovery two games later.
“We talk all week that Friday nights in the MAC are very difficult, especially on the road,” Elwer said. “Unfortunately we got out of the gate with Versailles and Fort Recovery on our home floor, which is a tough way to start. It’s good for our guys to get the first win in the league and against a good Minster team on the road. … Every time you win on the road in the league it’s a team deal.”
As for Minster, the Wildcats continue a rough stretch at Ottoville on Saturday and at St. Henry and hosting Fort Loramie next weekend. Minster started 3-0 but has dropped three of its last four. It’s a learning process for Minster as it transitions to McClurg, who took over this season after Mike Lee resigned. Lee is the boys career wins leader with 312 in 24 seasons.
“I don’t know what the answer is other than we have to keep grinding and teaching what (mental toughness) means,” said McClurg, who was an assistant under Lee. “They know me, but we’re trying to establish our culture. That’s not easy. I told the kids I’m learning, too. I don’t have 20 years I coaching. There’s a lot of things I’m learning with them. I need to be patient and they need to be patient. … I like the way we came back. I like that we stuck with it and I told them that. We have to figure out a way to score.”