GRANITE CITY — It came down to the final seconds to determine the Stove Top Stuffing Classic champion Saturday in Granite City. It was Civic Memorial that earned the bragging rights.
The Eagles clung to a 49-48 victory as GCHS' D.J. Miller's short jumper in the waning seconds clanged off the rim and was rebounded by CM's Zach Lehnen.
The Eagle bench erupted with excitement as CM grabbed the tournament title by least amount of points allowed through the four games. Both the Eagles and Warriors finished 3-1, as did Taylorville, but CM only surrendered 181 points in those four games, the lowest of the three programs.
Following a 58-55 loss to Taylorville to open the season, the Eagles played better over their next three games much to the delight of senior big man Jakob Lowrance who turned in 28 points in Saturday's win and earned his way onto the all-tournament team.
“It feels really good,” Lowrance said of being tourney champs. “At Taylorville we just got off to a real slow start, we weren't getting a lot of hands up on shooters and they just got hot, but here I knew we had a chance to come back the whole game. I wasn't too worried about it. I knew we had a chance and we just had to move the ball around, get it inside and get some easy buckets and then get back in transition and take some charges. Brenden Ricci had a clutch charge toward the end of the game that helped us out a lot.”
For CM head coach Doug Carey it was just about getting better each game of the tournament and he thought the Eagles produced their best performance when it mattered most on Saturday.
“I'm super pleased. We've grown,” Carey said. “After the first game I saw a lot of things to work on and we got a little bit better each game and I thought we played our best game tonight, definitely the best 32 minutes, we played a couple of real good quarters. We've still got a long way to go and a lot of stuff to work on, but real happy the way this tournament turned out.”
But it was the Warriors starting off strong on Saturday. Miller scored an early bucket and then sank consecutive 3-pointers following a Lowrance basket to put Granite City in front 8-2 right off the bat.
CM settled in with their zone defense though and at the end of the opening stanza only trailed 12-11.
“We know we can't play man-to-man against teams that quick,” Carey said. “We've got two 6-foot-7, 6-8 guys inside and we don't really match up with a lot of teams. We're going to mix and match, we're going to switch defenses, that's what we do best anyway. It didn't work early when they were making a few shots, but it worked late.”
A score from Lowrance and one of Brett Lane's four treys on the night put CM in front 16-12 at the 6:53 mark of the second quarter, but the Warriors battled back and entered the locker room with a slight 27-25 advantage.
Granite City head coach Steve Roustio thought it was a lack of execution defensively that ultimately plagued the Warriors more so than adjusting to the zone of the Eagles. He pointed to not boxing out the 6-8 Lowrance as a key to their demise.
“He's a problem and the thing about him is he's had real good games against us,” Roustio said of Lowrance. “He's a senior and it's quite obvious by the way he played that he wanted this championship. He worked hard and he got rebound putbacks, but if you're not going to get boxed out, I told them, 'If you don't box him out he's going to get rebound putbacks. You've got to put a body on him.'”
But what really made the pendulum swing in CM's direction was a pair of technical fouls called on the Warriors in the third quarter. The first was whistled on Kenny Berry at the 3:26 mark. Lowrance hit both his free throw shots to cut it to 35-32. The second came against the Granite City bench with 23.3 seconds left in the period. Again, Lowrance sank both freebies from the charity stripe, this time giving the Eagles a 40-37 lead to enter the fourth quarter.
“That can't happen,” Roustio said. “We talk to our players all the time, I don't care how frustrated you are you can't say things that are going to create that problem. We have to make sure that doesn't happen and I don't think for the most part that's going to be a problem this year.”
It set the stage for a huge fourth quarter for Lowrance, who scored nine points in the final frame.
The Warriors were able to grab a lead with a 6-0 run midway through the quarter. They forced back-to-back turnovers from the Eagles, with Berry turning a steal into a layup and Miller hitting a pair of free throws after being fouled following a steal. Miller also connected on a couple more free throws to put GCHS ahead 46-44 with 2:48 to go.
After a Lowrance score to knot it at 46-46, Berry buried a floater over the 6-8 big man to put Granite City back in front 48-46 with 2:01 to go. It was Lowrance drawing a foul, hitting a shot as a crashed to the court and completing a traditional 3-point play though with 1:45 left that made the difference.
Even after being whistled for an offensive foul with 35.9 seconds remaining, Lowrance and the Eagles stepped up their defense and denied the Warriors from scoring in the final seconds.
“Good contest on that last shot and clutch rebound by Zach Lehnen,” Lowrance said. “This helps a lot. We won this tournament and we won the Litchfield Tournament last year. We're starting to get on some rolls in these tournaments and last year after we won the Litchfield Tournament it helped us, we got a lot of confidence going after that, so I'm hoping it's the same here.”
Lane joined Lowrance in double-digit scoring Saturday, with 14 points. The Warriors were paced by 16 from Miller, 12 from Berry and 10 from Ron Allen.
Joining Lowrance on the all-tournament squad were: Berry, Marcus Chausse of Nokomis, Eric Dust of Taylorville and Noah Moss of Triad.
CM is now back in action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, welcoming Marquette Catholic.
STOVE TOP STUFFING CLASSIC
CIVIC MEMORIAL 49, GRANITE CITY 48
CM 11 14 15 9 — 49
GC 12 15 10 11 — 48
CM (3-1) — Jakob Lowrance 28, Brett Lane 14, Adam Hill 2, Zach Lehnen 4, Brenden Ricci 1. 2FG — 13 3FG — 5 FT — 8
GC (3-1) — D.J. Miller 16, Ron Allen 10, Tre Allen 5, Kenny Berry 12, Jalen Banks 3, Deontonio Jennings 2. 2FG — 13 3FG — 3 FT — 13