After losing three of four, Minster rebounded Thursday with a convincing win over St. Henry and added some light to Mike Wiss’s vision for February…or beyond.
Minster, OH – Minster coach Mike Wiss was looking for some light at the end of the tunnel Thursday, matching up with St. Henry (5-11, 1-6 in league) in a MAC.
His Wildcats, which played through the first month of the season to a 5-1 record, had struggled to a 4-6 record since, including losing three of their last four (New Knoxville, Marion Local, and Tri-Village) before beating St. Marys on Tuesday, 4-40.
He got what he was looking for with a 58-30 win over a youthful St. Henry team that got off to a bad start, turning the ball over nine times in the first four minutes – 17 times for the half – and never recovered. Minster lives off its defense and rebounding, and those turnovers and seemed to buoy every part of their game.
Junior guard Katie McClurg hit a pair of three-pointers in the first half, on her way to 11 points…but only scored twice on a pair of free throws in the second half.
That was OK, because teammate Kaycie Albers, who didn’t score at all in the first half, scored nine in the second half on a trio of three-point shots – one from each wing, and one from the top of the key. Along the way Ella Mescher pumped in a team-high 14 points, Lilly Barhorst and Morgan Sparks each had 8, Kennedy Korte, Alyssa Niemeyer, and Lyndi Hemmelgarn each had 2 points…so indeed, Wiss got what he was looking for in the form of balanced scoring, sharing the ball on offense, creating turnovers and easy buckets on defense, and commanding the boards for any shot that didn’t go in. They won the game by executing in all phases.
Credit St. Henry for playing hard, despite the horrible start and all those first half turnovers. The Redskins actually tightened things up in the second half, giving the ball up just seven times, but 24 extra possessions to a team like Minster, regardless of their record in the last four games is a formula for which Wiss is famous for using to his advantage.
“We talked about playing in the passing lanes, playing to the ball, and I was pleased there,” said Wiss afterwards of his team’s defensive effort in the opening minutes of the game. “I hope that we figured out [tonight] the importance of having a good start. Whether it’s the start of the game or the start of the second half, it’s an important stat.”
To make his point the Wildcats hit the first two shots of the third quarter to augment a 20-point halftime lead (32-12), and the first of Kaycie Albers’ trio of threes pushed them off to an 8-1 start. Minster outscored St. Henry 15-6 in the first quarter, and doubled down in the third by outscoring them again, 19-11.
He has maintained for years that regardless of their record, Minster wants to play its best basketball in February, because the girls’ tournament draw is this weekend. And February and March have been good to Wiss since his taking over the head coaching position in 2016. Still searching for their best, he’s currently at 11-7 (5-2 in the MAC) after Thursday’s win, and no more deterred than a year ago when the ‘Cats finished with a 26-2 record.
“I think we can play our best basketball from here on,” he assured. “I think our guards have improved in their ability to fight through pressure since the beginning of the year, and I like to have seen and experienced as many things as possible by this point of the year. So when the last two minutes of a tournament game comes along in a one or two-possession game, we’re might be a little nervous, but we know we’ve seen it before.
At their best this year they’ve scored in spurts – Katie McClurg’s 11-point outburst in Thursday’s first half, and Kaycie Albers’ 9 points in the second. Post player Ella Mescher has been their most consistent constant. Despite his dependence on defense, turnovers, and points in transition, does he believe he has enough spurts in his lineup to carry him in the tournament, or to at least become a spoiler?
“The #1 thing that we do better this year than last, and we were 26-2 last year…is we rebound better this year,” says Wiss. “I always tell them that offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounds win championships. I have a different view of spurts. Kaycie Albers didn’t score in the first half but she had six rebounds, and four of them came in the last four possessions, and she’s a scorer for us. So sometimes you have to stroke players players like this…we come out in the second half and run a set for her, because she has to score for us. She hits that three in our first possession of the second half.
“So do we have enough spurts? Basketball is a game of runs and momentum, and things have a way of switching. We had more transition points tonight than we’ve had in a while. So let’s build on that, and that’s something that has to come out tomorrow in practice, and it’s something that has to come out next week when we play a good Ottawa-Glandorf team.”
For St. Henry, Lauren Beyke paced the Redskins with 9 points, freshman Leah Lefeld had 6, Rileigh Baumer had 5, Lauren Thieman had 4, and Jalynn Everman and Mya Ontrop each finished with 3 points.
While it’s not customary for Minster to have seven losses at the end of January, it is notable that three of those losses have come against the best in Division III and IV in west central Ohio – Tri-Village, Arcanum, Fort Loramie, and Ottawa-Glandorf will present another formidable challenge.
“Someone told me earlier in the year that they were glad they didn’t have our schedule,” said Wiss, Thursday. “I told him…I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Competition and having seen it all helps you play your best basketball…come February.