They built a comfortable lead, then lost it in a frantic fourth quarter comeback by Greenville. But the foul line heroics of a sophomore still salvaged a memorable win for Coldwater.
Greenville – If the Coldwater Cavaliers don’t win another game all winter (and I’m bettin’ they will), they’ll look back on Tuesday night’s 67-64 win over Greenville with satisfaction the likes of what David must have felt when he knocked off Goliath.
And if they do win a few more first-year coach Nick Fisher will likely look back at Tuesday as the impetus for turnaround.
4-6 entering Tuesday route 127 “non-con” game with the 6-3 Green Wave, Fisher’s Cavaliers needed something far more for their trip to Greenville than a sack of Maid-Rites.
Sputtering through their first ten games, they were missing what good football schools usually miss for the first month of the season. The transition from football to basketball takes time. And in Coldwater’s case, they also missed the experience and competitive impact of senior Neal Muhlenkamp, who missed the first nine games with a broken foot suffered in the state semi-final game with Coshocton.
“He’s probably only 80% at this point,” said Fisher prior to the game. “But his 80% is a pretty good thing to have on the floor.”
Greenville had the advantage of experience, athleticism, and size, with 6’4” Aaron Rich and 6’7” Isaiah Gable. But from the outset Coldwater took it upon themselves to have the quick start. They simply outplayed, and out-hustled Greenville, despite the ominous post presence of Rich and Gable. Rich would ultimately finish with 18 points – Gable with 20.
Coldwater took care of the basketball, seemed to make the most of each possession.
Greenville was ragged, tried to play faster than Coldwater would allow, and fell behind after scoring the game’s first four points.
Coldwater countered the Green Wave’s inside game with points of their own…from 6’3” junior Derek Albers, who four times slipped past Rich and Gable for point blank attempts at the rim. He finished with eight points for the half; the Cavaliers finished the half with a nine-point lead, 32-23.
They built upon the lead in the third quarter as another junior, Sam Broering began to warm to the task from behind the three-point arc. Patience and ball movement yielded wide-open looks, while Albers continued to operate at the rim and sophomore point guard Marcus Bruns slashed through the interior defense to either score or get to the line.
Frustrated, Greenville seemed more than willing to send him there, along with anyone else who touched the basketball. The Green Wave quickly put Coldwater in the bonus, and by the start of the fourth quarter…they had their 10th foul. Double bonus!
But they kept fouling the wrong guy. Bruns, a slender 6’2” redhead with a ‘butch’ haircut, kept drawing the fouls and he made Greenville pay. With uncanny cool and accuracy, he calmly made one after another, after another, at one point building a 13-point lead.
But two minutes into the fourth quarter Greenville’s Peter Pandey finally connected on a three-point shot from the wing and it seemed to take the lid off the rim for Gable and company.
Little by little the momentum began to swing. Coldwater got “soft” with the basketball, in the words of Fisher – turnovers – and before you could say Annie Oakley the “Wave” had cut the lead to nine…then seven…then five, three, and with 30 seconds remaining in the game Gable hit a long contested three to shave the lead to a single point.
But hey, give the ball to the Bruns kid, right? And that’s exactly what Fisher and the Cavaliers did after a pair of timeouts. Greenville, fighting the deficit as well as the clock, had to foul him – send him to the line.
The student section on the stage of Greenville’s ageless band box gym did everything but a strip-tease to distract him. But Bruns was unflappable. He not only sank each of his 13 foul attempts for the game…he hit nothing but net.
“I was aware of the distraction,” he said afterwards. “But I wasn’t going to let it bother me. I’m very confident of my shot. It’s something I work on a lot with my dad (former Cavalier coach Mike Bruns). Confidence is key with foul shooting, and I knew I was going to make ‘em.”
And with 5.6 seconds remaining in the game he went to the line a final time. He cold-cocked his 18th and 19th points of the night, forcing Greenville to put up a wild three-point attempt from the deep corner on their ensuing possession to force the tie. The shot was off the mark, and Bruns and company escaped with the 67-64 win.
“This was a big win for us, a really big win,” said Fisher. “We’ve seen them play a couple of times this year and we know they’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of seniors that play and just that experience, and their athleticism, makes them solid.
“We’ve lost a few games that I thought we could have won. And with Neal (Muhlenkamp) not playing we hadn’t played well defensively. We had one day’s practice to get ready, and yesterday we challenged them, practiced harder than we normally would with a game on Tuesday, and tonight they just rang the bell. They came out and played defense the way we’ve asked them to play.”
As for the fourth quarter swoon?
“We knew a good team like them wasn’t going away, when you have enough shooters and the athletes they’re going to keep coming. But our kids plugged away and Marcus hit the free throws when he had to. This was just a great win for these guys.”
Bruns led them in scoring, hitting all 13 of his free throws on his way to 19 points. Albers and Broering joined him in double figures with 13 and 12 respectively. The Cavaliers shot 43% from the field…but 81% from the foul line, where the game was won.
“Well, a sophomore that hit the shots when he had to,” smiled Fisher. “This was one of those wins that could turn a season around for us. We go to Delphos on Friday and I feel really good about the effort we gave tonight after we asked them to play a little bit harder.”
Whether they win another game or not, Fisher and the Cavaliers will look back on Tuesday as the measuring stick by which all future efforts are gauged. The little extra effort, if that’s all it took, made a measurable difference.
Or was it just the presence of Neal Muhlenkamp?
If he was 80% Tuesday, he’ll should be no worse than a few numbers better come Friday, and beyond. Nothing helps you heal like being young.
Or a win like Tueday’s when you need it most!