Close for a half, Delphos St. John could not keep up with bigger, faster Lutheran East in the second half. The Blue Jays fall in the Division IV semi-finals.
Columbus – Coach Aaron Elwer admitted afterwards that it was always their plan to stay close to Lutheran East, slow things down, and keep the game within range.
And for a half his plan seemed to be working.
The Blue Jays kept it close for a quarter – down 9-8 at the end of one quarter.
Thanks to their defensive resolve, they kept it close for the first half – down just 16-13 after sixteen minutes.
But Lutheran coach Anthony Jones would later admit – he told his team to turn up the heat in the third quarter. Ratchet up the heat and make the Blue Jays sweat. That’s exactly what they did.
East came out in the third quarter and went on a 21-0 run; that is, they literally shut out St. John for the quarter, on their way to an eventual 50-25 win to advance to the championship round on Saturday.
“I told the guys in the locker room that we’ll remember the good things of the last four months, the things we accomplished,” said Elwer. “We’ll remember last Friday night and the excitement of winning the regional to get here. We’ll remember the memories we’ve made with each other over the past week.”
But for the fact of their afternoon in Value City Arena…they might want to forget. There simply were no highlights for the Blue Jays.
A faster, more athletic, and bigger Lutheran defense literally swarmed St. John, creating 18 turnovers in which they scored 22 points – nearly the entire margin of victory.
But more, it simply left the wrong taste in the mouths of a team that had won 21 games, qualified for the Final Four for the first time in 15 years, and frankly, believed they could hang with East with their defensive effort. But in the end…it didn’t work that way.
“We were nervous,” said Anthony Jones. “I told our guys…be nervous, because they can shoot the three, they’ll take a minute off the clock with each possession before they score, and their big guy (Tim Kreeger) is solid. Our strategy was…run ’em off the three-point line, put them under immense pressure, and I think we did a great job of that.”
Especially in the third quarter, when forward Jordan Burge (16 points) admitted, “I cannot remember the last time we held a team scoreless for an entire quarter.”
“They (the players) will tell you I was yelling at them at halftime,” said Jones, regarding their mere 3-point advantage at the half.
“I almost made some of them cry. We didn’t even come out at the half and warm up. I told them it was about coming in the third quarter and putting the pedal to the metal. We wanted to turn up the heat.”
They did just that. Delphos only got 12 shot attempts for the entire half, and four field goals (three from three-point range), all in the fourth quarter well after the decision was settled. The clock couldn’t go fast enough for Elwer and the Jays.
“It was hard,” said center Tim Kreeger of the Lutheran defensive effort. “They had size. Their guy was a little bit bigger than me, a little big longer than me, and their pressure didn’t help, either. We just couldn’t get anything going.”
In a nutshell, yes.
Yet, Elwer had a vision of the game playing out as it did for the first 16 minutes.
“I told them at halftime that it was like I thought it would be,” said the Blue Jays coach. “It would have to be low-scoring, the pace would have to be to our advantage, and to be down three at half was what we hoped would occur. But we couldn’t score at the beginning of the third and it kinda’ snowballed from there. We just couldn’t execute the way we needed to.”
It doesn’t negate the fact of a very fine season; or the fact of a solid underclass that portends more success in the immediate future. Sophomore Jared Wurst scored nine points, including a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and returns to anchor Elwer’s optimism for next year.
The finished shooting just 28% for the day. And to give you and idea of how tough it was to get even near the rim, the Blue Jays had but six free throw attempts for the game. They converted on half of them. Robbie Saine led them with a team-high 10; Wurst had his 9.
Lutheran East shot 50% for the game, led by Jordan Burge with 16 points. Maurico Tate also finished in double figures with 10.
“The future is bright for us, and for guys like Jared,” said Elwer, concluding his post-game comments. “He’s really good shooter and he wasn’t fazed today. We wanted to get him as many comfortable shots as we could. We just couldn’t do that.”
It was, in Anthony Jones’ words, what they set out to do.