Led by two under-classmen off the bench, Minster picked up a critical win and thrust itself into the crowded MAC title picture.
Minster – The AC/DC anthem “Thunderstruck” blared through Minster’s gymnasium during a timeout late in the Minster-Coldwater game Friday night.
It was a fitting choice because fans on both sides of the floor were exactly that: thunderstruck.
The Wildcats, trailing 13-0 and out-rebounded 12-0 to start the game, somehow rallied in the second half and stunned the Cavaliers 53-50 in a critical Midwest Athletic Conference game.
“Wow!” exclaimed Minster coach Mike Lee as he emerged from the victors’ locker room. “We were headed for no-mans land the first 5-6 minutes of the game. I’ve got some kids that just don’t quit. They have battled all year long and you saw it again this evening.”
The win is the 8th in ten games for the resurgent Wildcats, who join a four-way tie for second in the MAC, a game and a half behind front-running Versailles. Minster travels to Versailles next Friday.
Coldwater held the Wildcats scoreless for four minutes and 52 seconds to start the game, and when Aaron Ernst scored the first of his game-high 17 points, Coldwater lead 13-0. Minster missed its first 7 shots and was out-rebounded 12-0 before finally settling down late in the first quarter.
“We just kept playing hard,” said Ernst standing outside the Wildcats locker room. “Everyone was doing what they were supposed to do, and we just kept clawing back in it.”
Trailing 17-6 after another Ernst basket, sophomore Jared Huelsman stole a pass and hit a long three at the first quarter buzzer. Jacob Stechschulte hit a three on the opening possession of the second quarter, and suddenly what had been a 17-4 Coldwater advantage was 17-12. It was “game on” for the rest of the night.
“That six-point swing at the end of the quarter was definitely a momentum changer,” said a disappointed Coldwater coach Mike Bruns. “We had the same situation last week against Versailles (a 59-52 loss). We had the advantage, and let them get the momentum back. They started playing more aggressively and we played more passively. Happened again tonight.”
Coldwater was still up 10 in the opening minutes of the second half, but the end was near for the Cavaliers. Stechschulte hit a jumper inside the lane to give the Wildcats their first lead at 38-37 with 1:27 left in the quarter, and the Wildcats finished off a 21-5 explosion with an 11-0 run to lead by 7 heading into the final 8 minutes.
I just addressed this with my coaches,” Lee said, shaking his head and smiling at the same time. “We are down double-digits in the third quarter, and I’m still trying to figure it out. All of a sudden things are going our way, we are attacking the rim, getting loose balls, and good things started happening for this team.”
“Once we get running, and playing defense, we’re a pretty good team,” Ernst said with a grin. “When we get going, it’s contagious and everyone gets involved.”
“I like it,” the soft-spoken junior said about his role off the bench. “I like to get the other guys involved, and it’s always good when the shots are falling. Tonight is probably the best all-around game I have had this season.”
The Cavaliers, now 11-6 on the season and 4-3 in the MAC, didn’t go quietly, getting 6 points from 6-9 center Andy Brunet and 5 from Aaron Harlamert to stay in it. But Connor Tumbusch hit a huge three for Minster and Huelsman made a pair of free throws to help the Wildcats hand Coldwater its first road loss of the season.
“Every night in this league is a battle,” Lee went on. “It was 13-0 before we knew what hit us. That hasn’t happened before, so hopefully that doesn’t become a trend. I couldn’t be happier for the kids. We were up and down and up and down the first half of the season, but 2016 has been pretty good to this basketball team.”
“I have always said that it’s sometimes harder playing with the lead than from behind,” Bruns said. “They start picking up the pressure and we played to protect the lead, rather than continuing to attack the basket. Minster played really hard, like they always do. That is a tribute to Mike Lee. We knew they weren’t going to lay down and die.”
Ernst had a season high 17 for the Wildcats, who have no player averaging double figures. Stechschulte added 10, 7 in the second half, and Huelsman and Josh Nixon each had 7.
Brunet led Coldwater with 15 points, while Dylan Thobe added 12, all in the first half. Harlamert finished with 11.
“They really did a nice job on Andy,” Bruns said, referring to the Cavaliers 6-9 senior. “Instead of pounding on him, they picked up the pressure on our guards and we panicked in those situations in the second half.”
“We didn’t change much at halftime with regards to Brunet,” Lee explained. “We just kept the pressure up on the guards. You saw him. He’s got great hands, his footwork is great, he’s tough. We just tried to get help when and where we could and it worked out for us.
“This is a big win for this team. We were headed nowhere early, and battled for four quarters and got it done. We still have a lot of work to be done, but very pleased to get a win tonight.”
For the night, The Wildcats shot 40% from the floor compared to 47% for Coldwater. The Cavaliers were a miserable 3 of 15 from the arc, however, and made just 11 of 21 free throws for 52 %. Minster was 7 of 17 on three point shots, but an awful 6 of 14 from the line for 42%.
After being out-rebounded 20-7 in the first half, the Wildcats had a 12-10 advantage on the boards in the second half. The Wildcats also took care of the ball, committing 5 turnovers unofficially to the Cavaliers 12.
The bottom line is that the Wildcats are still very much in the MAC race and that excites Lee, who has won 312 games as the Minster head coach.
“Who would have thought this in December?” he agreed. “We have kind of flown under the radar all season and here we are. We have taken care of business here the last couple of weeks and now we have an opportunity to do something really special. It’s a going to be a great atmosphere at Versailles next Friday night.”
(Edited by Julie McMaken Wright)