BOYS BASKETBALL: Wildcats claim title, top W-WGSWU takes Candy Cane
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
OKABENA — Starting the second half on a 10-2 run and getting double-figure scoring production from four players in a well-balanced performance Saturday night, the Southwestern United Wildcats claimed a 69-53 victory over the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers in the championship game of the annual Candy Cane Classic boys basketball holiday tournament.
Andrew Kramer (seven steals, five assists) and Zach Schumacher (six rebounds, five shot blocks) both scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats (2-3 overall), who outscored W-WG (2-5 overall) 37-24 in the second half to stretch a 32-29 halftime lead into the final 16-point margin.
Brandon Thurk (14 points, seven rebounds) and Matthew Soto (13 points, four steals) also scored in double digits for SWU, which took better care of the ball and also created some easy scoring opportunities of its own as the game progressed.
“This was a nice win, as we again had several players contribute and give us a multi-dimensional team approach,” SWU head coach Lon Eichenberger said after the game. “Good things happened for us when we took care of the ball and moved it to the open guy. We were also able to use a variety of defensive looks to our advantage.”
Alex Knutson poured in a game-high 23 points to pace W-WG, netting five early points to help the Chargers take a quick 7-0 lead just 2 minutes, 11 seconds had expired.
Knutson converted a steal into a layup for the first points and later nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner, while Shane Buchman (eight points) added an offensive putback to get the Chargers a strong start.
“We did get off to a great start and really fought hard for most of the game,” W-WG head coach Derrick Jenniges said. “But I think that we got tired after playing an overtime game the night before and missed out on some opportunities to stay in contention during the second half. SWU’s pressure defense also got to us a little bit, so give them credit.”
The Wildcats answered the Chargers’ initial burst with a 9-2 run to pull even on the scoreboard (9-9) with 12:36 remaining. Soto buried a 3-pointer and also took a steal in for a layup, while Schumacher scored twice inside — including once after running the floor well and receiving a fast-break pass from Kramer — to spark SWU.
W-WG maintained a slight lead for the next several minutes, as Taylor Lindaman (10 points) sank a free throw and also passed to Brody Williams for a basket to help make it 14-10 at the 10:11 mark. A shot from the left elbow by Buchman and a free throw by Knutson (10-for-13 at the line) gave the Chargers a 17-13 edge with 7:42 on the clock.
SWU, though, put together an impressive 11-0 surge to mount a 24-17 advantage with 4:56 to go. An offensive putback by Kramer, a strong low-post move by Schumacher, a pair of interior feeds by Fest (to Schumacher and Thurk) and a 3-point swisher by Thurk were the Wildcats’ highlights in that sequence.
Two free throws by Aaron Hass, plus a 3-pointer by Lindaman and a couple of nifty baskets by Matt Otto, helped W-WG put the brakes on SWU’s late first-half run and tied the score at 29 with 1:23 left.
A 3-pointer in transition by Kramer with 47 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats a 32-29 halftime lead, and SWU quickly made it a double-digit cushion coming out of the break — scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the second half to build a 42-31 lead with 15:16 to play.
Kramer banked in a 3-pointer to open the scoring and also had a layup off a steal in that span, while Schumacher provided a putback basket, and Soto dialed in a left-wing 3-pointer to put the Wildcats in control.
SWU’s Levi Taylor later scored back-to-back baskets down low —including one on an assist from Cole Bosma (four assists, three steals) — to keep it at an 11-point spread (46-35) at the 12:08 mark.
Knutson countered with a 3-point play and a right-wing 3-pointer, as the Chargers pulled within four (49-45) with 8:33 to play, following a 10-3 run. Lindaman scored off a press-breaking pass from Williams and meshed two free throws to aid W-WG in that stretch, as well.
But Fest (seven points, six rebounds and four assists) found Schumacher for a basket on a pick-and-roll play and went 4-for-4 on two separate trips to the free-throw line to help SWU regain a double-digit lead (56-45) with 6:11 remaining.
Another 3-pointer by Knutson trimmed the gap to six (56-50) with 5:32 to go, but SWU scored the next seven points and, effectively, sealed the victory down the stretch.
Following two free throws by Schumacher, Thurk scored on an inside seal move and knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 63-50 at the 3:49 mark. Thurk — who also drew another charge on the defensive end to give him four in the tournament — scored two more baskets in the paint during the final 2 minutes to help extend the final margin to 69-53.
Thurk, Schumacher and Kramer were selected to the all-tournament team, as were Lindaman and Buchman. Lincoln HI’s Jordan Beck and Nate Pavek and Lakeview’s Derek Larsen were also named to the eight-member all-tournament team.
Lincoln HI (1-5) earned a 34-26 victory over Lakeview (3-5) in the third-place game Saturday afternoon.
CANDY CANE CLASSIC
SWU 69, W-WG 53
WESTBROOK-WALNUT GROVE (2-5): Lindaman 2 5-9 10, Williams 1 0-0 2, Knutson 5 10-13 23, Buchman 2 4-4 8, Otto 3 0-0 6, Hass 1 2-3 4. Totals: 14 21-29 53.
SOUTHWESTERN UNITED (2-3): Fest 1 4-4 7, E. Jass 0 1-6 1, Taylor 2 0-0 4, Kramer 5 3-8 15, Soto 5 0-0 13, Thurk 6 0-0 14, Schumacher 6 3-4 15. Totals: 25 11-22 69.
Halftime: SWU 32, W-WG 29. 3-Point Goals: W-WG 4 (Knutson 3, Lindaman); SWU 8 (Soto 3, Kramer 2, Thurk 2, Fest).