SLEEPY EYE - When you're playing a team that can make a lot of 3-pointers in a hurry, no lead is ever safe.
Although the Cedar Mountain/Comfrey boys' basketball team held the lead almost throughout Tuesday's game against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, the Cougars knew that the Knights had enough dangerous 3-point shooters to close the gap at any time.
"We knew we had to come out big, because we know they're good shooters," CM/C senior Zach Kerkhoff said. "They can come back at any time if they start knocking down shots, so it was crucial that we made shots."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Sean Mathiowetz attempts to block a shot from Cedar Mountain/Comfrey's Brady Kerkhoff (23) during the second half Tuesday at SESM.
In the end the Cougars made the shots they needed to keep control of the game the entire way, with five players scoring in double figures as CM/C earned an important 92-78 Tomahawk Conference victory.
CM/C combined its relentless offensive effort with a stifling defense that at one point held the Knights scoreless over an eight-minute stretch, during which the visitors put together a 19-0 run that increased the lead to 71-49.
Despite never falling completely out of contention in the game, the Knights were ultimately done in by a number of ill-timed turnovers and an overall poor shooting percentage.
"I thought they played better than we did in just about every phase of the game, I don't think it's that complicated," St. Mary's head coach Tim Milliard said. "I thought they rebounded better than we did, I thought they shot the ball better than we did, I thought they got a lot of the loose balls - from an overall standpoint, I thought they just did everything well, and we didn't do really anything well."
St. Mary's junior John Brandl scored the first basket of the game, but it turned out to be the only lead of the night for the home team.
The Cougars responded with an offense that pushed the ball up the court in a hurry, helping them pull ahead to a lead as big as 20-11 in the early going.
St. Mary's senior Sean Mathiowetz, who led his team with 29 points, hit a 3-pointer that cut CM/C's lead to 25-24, but Brady Kerkhoff (17 points) immediately followed with a 3-pointer to help the Cougars build the lead back up.
CM/C's biggest lead in the half was 43-32, which followed a steal by Javin Larsen that was accomplished with him diving to the floor, after which he fed the ball to Riley Kerkhoff (team-high 20 points) for a layup.
The Knights appeared to catch a break when CM/C's Shawn Sherman was called for offensive three seconds as the Cougars attempted to hold on for the final shot of the half, but CM/C point guard Sam Pendleton hit a jumper that banked off the glass with two seconds before halftime to give CM/C a 47-38 advantage at the midway point.
Despite their early dominance, the Cougars racked up 14 fouls in the first half, with Zach Kerkhoff, Henry Pendleton and Ryan Pendleton each entering halftime with three fouls. Sam Pendleton picked up his third foul just 42 seconds into the second half.
CM/C's foul trouble made for an interesting end to the game, with Sam Pendleton fouling out with 5:09 left on the clock and Henry Pendleton fouling out 30 seconds later, but the Cougars' lead never dipped below 11 points.
Brady Kerkhoff and Riley Kerkhoff stepped up for the visitors down the finishing stretch, combining for 15 of the team's final 17 points.
"I just kept telling them in the time outs that there was so much time left - we couldn't really pull the ball out and let the air out of it, we had to keep attacking the basket and we had to keep scoring," CM/C head coach Brian Pendleton said. "Riley got a lot of offensive put-backs for us, I love his hustle, I love his play - same as Brady. I wish I could have 10 of those guys, they're always giving 100 percent offensively and defensively."
St. Mary's received a 3-pointer from Brandl (13 points) and a pair of 3s from Jordan Anderson (16 points) in the opening minutes of the second half to cut the Cougars' lead to 52-49 with 15:30 remaining in the game, but the Knights didn't score again until Kansas Adams (14 points) made a layup with 7:15 left on the clock.
"We never found a flow offensively, we struggled offensively. We missed some shots we normally make, we turned it over, we just never got in a flow," Milliard said. "Some I think was Cedar Mountain did a nice job of closing off the lane on us and preventing some guys from getting to the basket."
Eight Cougars contributed significant point totals in the game, with Zach Kerkhoff and Sam Pendleton each scoring 14 points and Henry Pendleton adding 10 points. Larsen - a ninth grader - contributed seven points.
"Our depth was kind of a question going into the season, but I've been playing nine, sometimes 10 guys - we've had a couple of freshmen step in and give us good minutes," Coach Pendleton said.
The two teams will meet again on Friday, Feb. 8 in Morgan in a game that could have big implications in the Tomahawk Conference title race.
"We know what they're going to bring now, we know they can rebound and we know they're physical," Mathiowetz said. "They've got a pretty good post player in [Zach] Kerkhoff, he can get the ball in the post and he finishes well. We've just got to be more physical, be more aggressive and run our offense, and I think we'll be fine."
The Knights (6-3, 3-2) will get a chance to rebound from Tuesday's loss when they host New Ulm Cathedral on Thursday.
"Right now we've been inconsistent - we've had some games where we've played well and executed well, and we've had some games where we haven't," Milliard said. "I think right now this group is showing that they're just not that consistent yet, so for us the focus is just going to be just how does everybody play at a more consistent level game to game."
CM/C (6-2, 5-0), which had an 0-3 record against St. Mary's last season, will look to keep its momentum going when it plays at Minnesota Valley Lutheran on Friday.
"It's a big confidence booster," Zach Kerkhoff said. "We haven't beat St. Mary's in a couple of years, so that's a big win for us, we needed that to help us in the conference standings. It was a big conference win for us."