Sturgis senior Chance Stewart is supposed to lead his team on a nightly basis. But Friday’s performance at home against rival Coldwater was an example of pure will in a 55-40 victory.
Finishing with 34 points, including 22 of the team’s 26 points through the first two quarters, the big dog ate on a night his teammates mostly experienced offensive famine.
“The game plan is always to establish Chance early,” Trojans coach Keith Kurowski said. “We were a little surprised that they weren’t doubling or helping more onto him. The first couple times we got it inside and I just kept calling his number. He really did carry us in the first half because we had some dry spells with some of the other guys.”
The win boosts the Trojans to 8-5 overall and 4-5 in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division.
Sturgis had a 26-18 halftime advantage and pushed the lead to 10 with a clever post move by Stewart earl in the third frame. Junior Jack Scheske, who was 3-of-10 from the field, couldn’t find his shooting touch, but the guard was still a major asset on both ends of the floor.
A perfectly placed lob pass to Stewart gave the Trojans a 35-23 lead at the midway point in the third quarter, and Stewart capped the period with a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 16-point advantage.
Sturgis needed the cushion as Coldwater mounted a rally from extremely long range. With solid perimeter defense, Coldwater kept hoisting from well beyond the 3-point line and connected on back-to-back attempts to make it a 39-34 game with 3:11 to play.
“I just told the guys, ‘Listen, keep playing our game and keep getting me the ball and we’re going to make it happen,’” Stewart said.
A baby hook on the offensive end and a tip on the other end by Ryan Schuller regained the momentum for the Trojans, which finished 18-for-33 from the field (54.5 percent) and 16-for-22 from the foul line.
Stewart drained a pair of free throws and Andrew Airgood’s reverse in transition pushed the lead to 45-34 with less than two minutes to play. Scheske, who finished with 10 points, added a layup off a nearly full-court inbound pass from Stewart and the Trojans mopped up at the stripe to end the night.
“It’s a big one,” Stewart said. “There’s not much love between us. It’s a big win for us, and a commanding win. I’m really excited about it and we got the sweep of Coldwater. After the first couple buckets going in I felt like it was going to be one of those nights for me. I just kept riding it and the guys kept feeding me the ball.
It was good that some of those guys got that experience in the fourth quarter. That can only help us down the road.”
Added Kurowski: “[We] just didn’t have it offensively. Again, we went to the big fella inside and he had his way — drives, post-ups, perimeter shots — he did it all for us in that first half, really kept us in that game and gave us a little breathing room there at halftime.
Lonnie Wright scored four points, Matt Polzin had three and Schuller contributed two for the Trojans, which turned the ball over 17 times and forced 15. Sturgis outrebounded the Cardinals 28-19, with Stewart grabbing 11, Schuller securing seven and Scheske finishing with five.
Tristen Stewart and Scheske paced the team with four assists apiece.
Ryan Mock led Coldwater with 16 points.
“We played good defensively; I just wasn’t happy offensively,” Kurowski said. “We just weren’t in rhythm. We made some errant passes. We had too many turnovers. We were just out of sync for most of the game.
“Great team defense. We got up 16 there in the third quarter and I tried a couple different combinations. I give Coldwater credit; they battled and threw in some threes there in the third quarter and early fourth quarter.”