SLEEPY EYE - Ironically, it was a missed 3-point shot that allowed the Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Knights to hold on and beat the Wabasso Rabbits 72-69 in Tomahawk Conference boy's basketball action Tuesday night.
It was a game that exhibited two completely different styles of basketball. The run-and-gun Knights, who never saw a trey attempt they didn't like, versus a bigger, stronger Rabbits squad that is a hammer on the inside but light on the perimeter.
While St. Mary's was outrebounded 2-to-1 and shot just 23 percent from the 3-point arc, Wabasso coach Josh Hadley had a cogent explanation for the Rabbits downfall.
"Turnovers and free throws," Hadley said. "When you have 21 turnovers and 11 missed free throws, you're not going to win too many games. St. Mary's is a tough place to come and play. We did a few things well in the first half, but we had mental lapses in the second half and they took advantage of it. We didn't have an answer on the perimeter."
Knights coach Tim Milliard also had an interesting analysis of a twisty but entertaining game. "If you looked at just the stats, you'd think we lost by 15 points," Milliard said. "It was about who was going to make enough plays. It wasn't a real pretty game."
Wabasso's Neil Eichten, Tanner Bock and Matt Zeug accounted for 65 of the Rabbits 69 points and at one point in the first half, Wabasso was up 31-22 and looked like they might blow the game open.
While St. Mary's had four 3s by that point, its rebounding was non-existant and they weren't able to stop Bock and Zeug inside.
But the Knights were able to roll off a 9-3 at the end of the half to stay within striking distance entering the break.
A 3 by Jared Rothmeier to start the second half started the first of seven ties that ended when Rothmeier hit another 3 to put St. Mary's up 51-48. Three times after that, the Knights cut it to six-point margins, but each time the Rabbits responded, so with 4:23 left, it was knotted at 65-65.
At this point, it became a game of who would make the free throws and the fewest mistakes. Wabasso committed two turnovers, but St. Mary's only hit two of five shots from the free throw line. A layup and a foul on Bock with 1:20 left made it 70-69, but Bock missed the free throw.
The Knights then played keep away, but with 49 seconds on the clock, St. Mary's hit just two of five free throws, while the Rabbits had two more turnovers, a missed shot under the hoop and a three attempt at the final buzzer that rattled off the rim.
Eichten led all scorers with 30, while Bock had 22 and Zeug added 13. St. Mary's was led by Payton Adams with 19, while Joel Brandl had 15, Rothmeier contributed 12 and Mike Hirsch had 10.
The 3-2 Knights take on Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, while the 5-2 Rabbits travel to Adrian to play in a Holiday Tournament on Thursday and Friday.