Three Rivers boys basketball coach Frelen Gowen had enough faith in his players and the play already drawn up in his head to burn 40 of the final 55 seconds of Tuesday’s season opener at Sturgis down by two points.
Sturgis coach Keith Kurowski has complete confidence in center Chance Stewart. Something had to give.
Coming out of a timeout with 15.4 seconds to go, the Wildcats’ were forced to improvise in the face of a stout Sturgis zone defense and junior forward Elijah Hamilton hoisted what appeared to be an open 3-pointer with a second left for the win. Stewart, without committing a foul, darted in front of the shot and introduced the ball to the wall to preserve a 40-38 Trojans victory.
Three Rivers had one last opportunity in the final second, but the shot was short.
“We stayed in that zone and I said coming out of that timeout, ‘Do not foul the 3-point shooters,’” Kurowski said. “Chance is one of the better guys I’ve coached being able to block a shooter while avoiding contact. Give him credit; I didn’t really say or do much. His natural instincts took over. We do talk about contesting shots and that was one of the more crucial shot contests of the night.”
Gowen said he wasn’t about to give Sturgis the ball back, which is why he bled the clock.
“We were either going to tie it or win it but not give them a chance,” he said. “The kids were confident with what we had [designed] and the shot we wanted was open but the pass direction wasn’t good. We had to go to plan B. They just made a good play. We couldn’t get the shot we wanted; we got the second shot we wanted.
“They were aggressive and much taller than us. We knew we had to have a little deception, a good screen, and we got the deception but the screen wasn’t real solid. It’s not that it wasn’t set good, [Stewart] is just a good player. Give credit to them.”
And give a lot of credit to junior Jack Scheske, a player in which Kurowski and the rest of the Trojans certainly have supreme confidence if they didn’t before.
Click here for a video interview with Scheske
Scheske drained 5 of 10 attempts from deep to finish with a game-high 19 points. He was a central figure in Sturgis’ 12-0 run in the third quarter that proved to be a crucial cushion as Three Rivers grinded its way back into the game late.
“We’re young. We started a freshman, two sophomores, a junior and a senior,” Stewart said. “Really, you don’t know what you’re going to get until you get out and start playing. You could tell some kids were nervous. I turned the ball over; we turned the ball over a lot early. We weren’t playing really good defense. Without Jack tonight we would have been in trouble. He was stroking it tonight and hitting from everywhere. That helped a ton.”
Stewart, who struggled from the field (4-for-12), still finished with 18 points by knocking down 10 of 14 foul shots. He grabbed 14 of the team’s 23 rebounds and notched a team-best eight assists.
Sturgis, which committed 17 turnovers compared to the Wildcats’ 11, was without starting point guard Core Baldwin, who Kurowski said has been banged up and ill recently. Baldwin is expected to suit up at home Friday against Gull Lake. As a result, sophomore Tristen Stewart got the nod and the Trojans went big with freshman Matt Polzin (6-foot-4) and sophomore Ryan Schuller (6-5) also in the starting lineup. Polzin produced three points as the team’s only other scorer besides Chance Stewart and Scheske.
Three Rivers finished with 16 rebounds and was 10-for-12 from the stripe (83.3 percent). The Wildcats were 11-for-36 shooting (30.6 percent) and stayed in the game with a 6-for-12 effort from behind the arc.
Senior Alex Cottingham registered 11 points to lead the team, followed by junior Johnel Stewart’s seven. Adam Reed (sophomore) and Hamilton (junior) each hit a pair of triples
Just a bucket short.
“I kind of wanted to go from the side angle,” Stewart said of his gamble to be so aggressive on Three Rivers’ 3-point look at the end. “I knew if I went straight on and he shot fakes I’m fouling him and he’s going to the free-throw line. If I come from an angle (worst case scenario is) I’ll just fly by him and look like an idiot. I guessed right and got the block, so I’ll take it.”
Added Kurowski: “We battled and we were fortunate. They’re a good team; give them credit. They played with a lot of poise, patience and maturity. We were just fortunate enough to come out on top tonight.”