St. Thomas Aquinas shot 3-of-21 from 3-point land in Tuesday’s first half yet led New Middletown Springfield 22-11. The Knights went on to a 50-42 victory that sent them into the Division III basketball district title game in the Harry Cabas Gymnasium.
Talk about a weird way to wreck a No. 1 seed.
St. Thomas Aquinas shot 3-of-21 from 3-point land in Tuesday’s first half yet led New Middletown Springfield 22-11. The Knights went on to a 50-42 victory that sent them into the Division III basketball district title game in the Harry Cabas Gymnasium. They will play at 7 p.m. Friday against Manchester, which ousted Central Catholic 44-32 in Tuesday’s nightcap.
Aquinas head coach Matt Hackenberg loved his team’s resolve, even when the radar was haywire.
“When we played teams like Ursuline, Massillon and Lake,” Hackenberg said, “they pushed us all around, and we had to deal with it.
“I think that’s what Springfield felt like. I don’t think they played anybody who pushed ’em around like this.”
The Tigers (17-7) seemed never to have the ball. Aquinas went after rebounds, loose balls and dribblers like piranha. The Knights shrank Springfield’s noteworthy height advantage with hustle.
“We really shut ‘em down on defense,” said 5-foot-10 Aquinas senior Anthony Snyder, who scored 26 points. “We dug in the gaps and didn’t let them get to the rim, where their height could hurt us.”
Oddly, the Knights’ 3-of-21 first half probably hurt only Springfield, psychologically. Down by double digits in that kind of game is frustrating.
Aquinas wasn’t jacking up wild shots. Springfield’s zone didn’t extend pressure, affording the Knights numerous open looks.
“My dad (Larry) told me if we scored in the 40s, we’d probably lose, and if we scored in the 60s, we’d probably win,” Hackenberg said.
The advice told the Knights’ 27-year-old first-year head coach not to get cheated on shot count.
In lieu of field goals, quick-footed, full-court defense and non-stop long rebounds off bricked bombs buoyed the Knights.
Senior guard Eoghan Bees, who led Springfield to last year’s district title, got so frustrated at one point that he dribbled the length of the court, lowered his shoulder and got rung up for charging while forcing a layup.
“We wanted to make it a really long night for Bees,” Hackenberg said.
Snyder had all three of the Aquinas makes on 3s en route to 15 first-half points. Springfield was scoreless in the second quarter before Bees banked in a layup at the buzzer.
Springfield began to make its size work with inside buckets in the third quarter, but the Knights kept scrapping and forcing turnovers and led 34-24 heading into the final period.
Bees got busy, leading Springfield to within 44-39 with a minute left. A flurry of late offensive rebounds by Aquinas senior Will Burger kept the Tigers at bay.
Springfield head coach Eric Fender tipped his cap to the relentless Knights.
Page 2 of 2 - “I don’t know that they’re especially quick,” Fender said. “They’re just hard-nosed kids.”
Manchester outlasted Central Catholic, as it did late in the regular season. But Manchester looms as an underdog against Aquinas, which beat the Panthers 56-50 on Dec. 4.
“The Aquinas game was a long time ago,” Manchester head coach Gene Schindewolf said. “I’m too old to remember it.”
He did recall that Aquinas shot a lot from the outside, and hit enough to make it hurt.
Central Catholic hung tough most of the way Tuesday. The Crusaders held Manchester to two points through four minutes of the third quarter. The bad news: Manchester’s defense shut out Central in that span and led 31-24 heading into the fourth quarter.
Six-foot-4 Manchester senior Jamar Dukes, recovering from an ankle injury suffered in a recent game, worked inside for his 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Another 6-4 senior, Nick Peyakov, also scored 11 points.