EDWARDSVILLE — What a difference a couple weeks can make.
After beating the Metro East Lutheran Knights 52-30 on Nov. 29 at Thomas Hooks Gym, the Marquette Catholic Explorers were taken to the wire on Tuesday at MELHS. Fortunately, the Explorers were able to stave off the Knights, winning 50-47 to improve to 7-1 and 2-0 in Prairie State Conference action. Metro is now 5-3 and 1-1.
Marquette head coach Steve Medford summed up the disparity in the two games very simply.
“The difference is 17-year-old kids,” Medford said with a chuckle. “It's funny but it's the truth. I think (MELHS) did a really good job tonight of taking away some stuff that we did. We missed eight layups in the first half and I don't think it was so much what we did, but I thought their coach (Anthony Smith) did a really good job taking away some of our stuff tonight and it was a good battle. The kids competed and his kids competed really, really well and it was a tough game. It's tough to come in here twice, you've already played them once and beat them pretty good, and getting your kids up for that type of game. I told the kids before the game it was going to be a tough one.”
That's why when Marquette's Max Goepel swatted Connor Wallace's 3-point attempt for the tie at the buzzer he could let out a huge sigh of relief.
“Oh, I was just happy for it to be over,” Goepel said. “Glad we won. I shouldn't of left (Wallace) that open at first, but we still won so I'm happy.”
First-year Metro head coach Anthony Smith wasn't happy with the loss, but he was happy with the progression from the first matchup with the Explorers to this one.
“We came out and actually stuck to the game plan (tonight),” Smith said. “The first time we played them in the first half we were 4 for 21 from the floor. We made two perimeter jump shots so that means we missed 19 layups. Tonight the basketball possessions were quality possessions. We didn't just come down and press. The first time we met them we turned it over like seven, eight times in a row. We watched it on game film and literally showed it to the boys.
“They're a very good ball club and we came out tonight, and I don't mind taking a loss as long as we compete, and we competed tonight. I was proud of the boys because they gave us every opportunity to win the game. We were 6 of 14 from the free throw line, so we make free throws and do a couple of other things...to come out and compete against them, it's very good for my boys.”
The difference in the game came early. Marquette shot out to an 8-2 lead behind an inside basket from Goepel and a trio of buckets in the paint by Ben Sebacher. Goepel and Sebacher each netted 12 points on Tuesday to lead the Explorers.
“I was just in the right spot at the right time for offensive rebounds,” Sebacher said. “I was doing what I had to do.”
After a pair of free throws by Jacob Fischer with 1:17 to play in the opening frame Marquette owned a 12-5 advantage, but buckets by Noah Coddington and Kobe Krone sliced it to 12-9 as the quarter closed.
That proved to be the difference in the game as each subsequent quarter the two squads matched each other in points.
Metro did lead 14-12 early in the second quarter after a 9-0 run. The Knights led again 24-21 with 2:36 left in the opening half when Wallace scored and Jason Johnson hit the front end of two free throws.
A 6-0 run by the Explorers capped the half though. Nick Messinger hit a free throw, Goepel had a score and freshman Reagan Snider added the final three with a 2-pointer and a free throw to make it 27-24 at the break in favor of Marquette.
Leading scorer for the Explorers on the season, junior Shandon Boone, was held in check with zero points and two fouls in the first half, but Smith pointed to the Knights' lack of capability of containing Sebacher as the Achilles' Heel.
“He had to have at least six rebounds and putbacks,” Smith said. “He's such a big kid. We ended up with four fouls on him and I was trying to pick up that last one, but we couldn't get that on him. It was a good game.”
Marquette sustained its lead in the third quarter, never falling behind and leading 38-35 entering the final eight minutes.
Again MELHS battled in the fourth quarter, but couldn't get over the hump. An easy layup for Coddington after Marquette didn't box out on a missed shot cut it to 46-45 with 3:40 to play, but Sebacher responded with a basket to make it 48-45.
Metro sophomore Braden Woolsey scored with 1:55 remaining to dwindle it to 48-47, but again it was the Explorers answering, this time with Snider with 22.9 seconds to go. Goepel's block on Wallace then sealed the deal.
It was a huge statement in the PSC, which only offers five games. Marquette is 2-0 with East Alton-Wood River, Mount Olive and Bunker Hill remaining.
“We really want to win conference, so this definitely helps a lot,” Goepel said. “2-0 now in conference is big and it's something we definitely want.”
Medford doesn't look at it as such a priority. The win itself meant more to the coach.
“I don't put as much emphasis on conference as maybe other schools do,” Medford said. “I'm all about just getting better every game so we can compete in postseason and hopefully be relevant when the 3A regional comes around.”
Smith was hoping for the upset Tuesday so he would be in the PSC driver's seat, but he knows his team competed against and lost to a pretty good basketball team.
“I was hoping to knock them off tonight,” Smith said. “But again, they're a good ball club. They do a lot of things well. The bigs know their roles, the shooters know their roles. You don't ever see kids taking unorthodox shots, but I think we grew up tonight, that's what I'll say.”
MARQUETTE 50, MELHS 47
Marquette 12 15 11 12 — 50
MELHS 9 15 11 12 — 47
Marquette (7-1, 2-0) — Shandon Boone 5, Jacob Fischer 9, Max Goepel 12, Ben Sebacher 12, Reagan Snider 11, Nick Messinger 1. 2FG — 21 3FG — 1 FT — 5 PF — 13
MELHS (5-3, 1-1) — Jason Johnson 11, Braden Woolsey 6, Kobe Krone 6, Connor Wallace 13, Noah Coddington 11. 2FG — 12 3FG — 5 FT — 6 PF — 14