BELLEVILLE — With a 23-11 lead late in the second quarter Friday on a 3-pointer by Trevor Flota, the Mount Vernon Rams seemed well on their way to victory.
However, the Rams didn't collect their next field goal until there were 15.1 seconds remaining as Althoff fought through a dreadful start and came from behind to deliver a 44-36 South Seven Conference basketball win.
Althoff guard Kevin Renner scored 12 of his team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Crusaders (5-2 overall, 2-0 in conference play) outscored the Rams 25-10 in the final eight minutes.
Althoff trailed 23-13 at halftime and 26-19 heading into the fourth quarter. But from the time Flota hit his shot late in the first half, the Crusaders outscored the Rams 33-13.
Of those 13 points, 11 came on free throws while the Rams (4-2, 1-1) missed 15 of their final 16 field goal attempts. The only one they made came on a lay-in by Jake Pike with 15.1 seconds to play.
Althoff won despite not taking its first lead until freshman guard Keenen Young hit the second of two straight shots with 3 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.
What prompted the complete turnaround by the Crusaders?
"I don't know, I try not to get upset with it so I just walk around with a headache," said Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose team continues to work its football players back into the mix after a long state playoff run saw the Crusaders finish second in Class 2A. "A lot of it is we're trying to feel our way through who we are and what we are, that's a big piece of it.
"It was just sheer perseverance on the part of the kids."
This was a strange game indeed.
Mount Vernon broke out to a 10-0 lead and Althoff didn't light its side of the scoreboard until freshman Brendon Gooch scored with 1:12 left in the opening quarter.
Averaging 15 points a game, Renner was scoreless until the 3:09 mark of the second half. He had only one field goal through three quarters, then suddenly caught fire.
"Kevin Renner made some incredible plays, got himself to the basket and made some shots," Leib said. "(Erik) Furmanek's post presence helped; getting the ball inside to him gives us better lanes to drive in and better opportunities to shoot it outside.
"I thought Kevin buckled down and focused. He got to the rim a little bit more and that's a big piece of his game."
Mount Vernon coach Scott Gamber watched what appeared to be two different Rams teams on the same court. One dominated early, while the other seemed unable to create any offense while breaking down defensively throughout the second half.
"Big tribute to their pressure," said Gamber, whose squad had nine of its 13 turnovers in the second half. "Their pressure took us out of our offense a little bit. I think you can handle pressure two ways, you can get really solid and get easy baskets because of it, or you can try to force things that aren't there.
"We tried to dribble through things that weren't there and when we did have good looks, we didn't make them."
Two quick shots by Renner carved into Mount Vernon's lead early in the fourth quarter. Althoff's Grant Strieker nailed a 3-pointer that kept a 15-5 run going before Young tied it and then put the Crusaders on top, 32-20.
Baskets by Furmanek and Renner pushed the Althoff lead to four and free throws by Gooch and Renner made it 40-33 with 38.1 seconds remaining.
The Crusaders hung on from there, getting eight points from Gooch, six from Furmanek and five from Strieker.
Flota scored nine of his 10 points in the first half on three 3-pointers, while Travis Mitchell added nine points for the Rams.
Mount Vernon was 8-for-32 from the floor (25 percent) and Althoff's pressure defense helped keep that percentage down throughout the second half.
"When our offensive struggles really started occurring, I thought our guys responded to that by gambling on the defensive end," Gamber said. "We can't do that. When you're struggling on one end, you've got to become more solid on the other."
Contact reporter Norm Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2454.