ALTON — Winning close games hadn't been the Marquette Catholic Explorers forte entering Tuesday.
That changed, as the Explorers posted an impressive 43-34 victory over previously undefeated Metro East Lutheran on their home court Tuesday.
Marquette improved to 5-2 overall with the win and 2-0 in the Prairie State Conference. The Knights dipped to 6-1 and 0-1 with the loss. The victory definitely puts the Explorers in the driver's seat for the PSC with wins over Nokomis and MELHS under their belt.
“That's a good win, that's a good basketball team,” Marquette head coach Steve Medford said. “They've got some talent and it's a tight game that we won down the stretch. We won a lot of these games last year, but these year we lost two of them, so it feels good to get one.”
MELHS head coach Anthony Smith was surprised and disappointed with the offensive output of the Knights on Tuesday. They came in averaging 56.5 points per game and only shot an abysmal 34 percent (15 of 44) from the field against a stout Marquette defense.
“It was one of those rare nights where my defense showed up and my offense didn't,” Smith said. “We knew we were going to have a tough game, but offensively I didn't think we'd struggle like that. I knew we'd have some nights, but not like tonight. (Teddy) Fifer only had nine points and was only 1 of 7 from downtown. They're a good ball club and we expected a good game and it's just one of those nights where the basketball didn't go down for us.”
The Explorers take pride in playing defense and Medford thought they did a good job of that against a potent MELHS squad.
“Defensively we did really well and they've got two really good guards who are both really good basketball players and I thought we did a really good job of containing them,” said Medford. “We stuck to the game plan of keeping Kenrique Brown out of the lane and did a good job with that.”
The offenses for both teams were practically non existent in the first half. The Explorers led 11-5 after the opening quarter and just 13-11 entering the break.
Marquette shot just 31 percent (5 of 16) in the first half, while MELHS shot 22 percent (4 of 18).
Things began to heat up once the second half began. Fifer tied it up with a bucket at 13-13 at the 7:43 mark, but Reagan Snider answered with a 3-pointer for the Explorers to put them back up 16-13.
The teams traded baskets throughout the quarter and the Knights finally grabbed their first lead of the game at 24-23 on a Fifer field goal with 3:15 to play in the third. Marquette backup big man Trevon Collins made sure it didn't last long though. He hit a turnaround, fadeaway jumper with 3:02 to play to put the Explorers back in front 25-24.
MELHS drew even at 26-26 with 20.8 seconds to play in the frame on a Braden Woolsey bucket, but it was Collins again scoring as time expired on the third quarter to propel Marquette in front 28-26.
“Travon really did play well for us,” Medford said. “He's working hard and trying and he made some good baskets for us. Defensively when we needed him with some good minutes with Ben (Sebacher) being out with some foul trouble, Trevon did a good job.”
Collins' shot to end the third quarter sparked the Explorers on a 6-0 run, catapulting them in front 32-26 with 5:49 remaining in the game. The Knights never climbed closer than four points the rest of the way.
Marquette's 6-foot-5 Ben Sebacher was big in the final frame, scoring 8 of his 10 points.
“I was just trying to come out in the second half and do what I could to get some points and get us the win,” Sebacher said.
Medford added, “Sebacher was big and we expect that out of Ben.”
Three Explorers reached double figures on Tuesday with Shandon Boone leading the way with 12 points. Snider and Sebacher joined him with 10 points apiece.
The win was a big confidence booster for Marquette, especially with gaining leverage inside the PSC.
“It feels great and I'd love to win a conference championship this year,” Sebacher said.
MARQUETTE 43, MELHS 34
Knights 5 6 15 8 — 34
Explorers 11 2 15 15 — 43
Marquette (5-2, 2-0) — Trey Aguirre 4, Shandon Boone 12, Nick Messinger 3, Reagan Snider 10, Ben Sebacher 10, Trevon Collins 4. 2FG — 8 3FG — 5 FT — 11 PF — 16
MELHS (6-1, 0-1) — Teddy Fifer 9, Kenrique Brown 4, Jason Johnson 11, Braden Woolsey 6, Noah Coddington 2, Eli Jacobs 2. 2FG — 14 3FG — 1 FT — 3 PF — 19