The Highland Bulldogs got the kind of game they wanted — just not the outcome.
The Bulldogs effectively slowed the pace against top-seeded and unbeaten Briarcrest Academy, but they still came up short in a 28-27 loss in Saturday’s title game of the 57th annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Highland owned a 17-16 lead in the third quarter before Briarcrest put on its only real run of the game, scoring five of the game’s next seven points to go up 21-19.
It didn’t seem like much, but Highland never tied the game again.
“A 5-2 run is big in a game like this,” said Briarcrest coach John Harrington, whose team improved to 17-0. “We missed a layup and a tip-in there, too, so it could have been more.
“But they had a great game plan, and we did not shoot it very well tonight.”
Highland had its chances late.
A pair of Sam LaPorta free throws drew the Bulldogs within 26-24 with 9.6 seconds to go.
On the ensuing inbound pass, it appeared Highland had forced a turnover, but the referee ruled the Saints had called timeout before it occurred.
Briarcrest’s Ben Sivils then drained a pair of free throws, making it 28-24.
That meant when the Bulldogs’ Jake Kruse drained a 3-pointer just before time expired, Highland was still a point short.
“I thought we got a really tough call in that situation. I really thought we had created the turnover,” said Highland coach Brian Perkes, whose team won a pool in which all five teams went 2-2. “It just didn’t go our way.
“We had a chance to beat a really good ball team.”
Briarcrest, which likes to play at a fast tempo, showed plenty of respect for Highland, even going to a delay of its own late in the game.
“We don’t slow it down in Memphis, but they played a great game,” said Harrington.
Cedric Henderson topped Briarcrest (Tenn.) with 12 points. The Saints also won the tournament in 2012.
LaPorta and Kruse both scored 11 points to lead Highland (9-5). LaPorta was named to the Mater Dei All-Tournament First Team.
“We felt we did what we needed to do controlling tempo,” said Perkes. “I don’t know if we threw them off their game with our zone.”
The other tournament finals were Nashville defeating Carlyle 59-44 in the third-place game, Mater Dei shading Okawville 56-54 in overtime in the fifth-place game, Breese Central edging Sacred Heart-Griffin 54-49 in the seventh-place game, and Mascoutah beating Metro-East Lutheran 65-56 in the ninth-place game.
Highland 50, Breese Central 46 (OT)
The Bulldogs led 18-12 after the first quarter, then had to overcame scoring a combined five points in the middle two quarters and falling behind 29-23 heading into the fourth frame. But Highland won the final eight minutes by a 14-8 margin to force the extra session.
The Bulldogs then had their best offensive stretch, rallying for 13 points in the overtime period to outlast the Cougars (6-6) by four points and punch their ticket to the championship game.
LaPorta pumped in a game-high 23 points, including going 10 for 13 from the charity stripe.
Tyler Joest and Simon Thomas each scored 16 points to share team-high honors for Central.
Stephen Torre just missed double figures for Highland with nine points.
Also scoring points for the Bulldogs were Stephen Schniers with six points, Cameron Altadonna with five points, Jack Etter with three points, and Kruse and Brady Feldmann each with two points.
Mascoutah 43, Highland 41
The Bulldogs trailed for most of the first half, but LaPorta scored a couple of late baskets and Kruse hit a 3-pointer in the waning seconds to forge a 21-21 deadlock at the halftime break.
Highland stayed within striking range for the entire second half, although the Indians took their biggest lead at 34-28. Kruse drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit in half and LaPorta sank two free throws to narrow the gap to a single point at 34-33.
Jarred Johnson hit a 3-pointer with about 4:25 left to put Mascoutah back up by four, but Kruse responded with another trey.
Feldmann buried a trey to pull Highland even at 39 all with 1:35 remaining.
Blake Weiss hit a pair of foul shots with 1:03 to play, only to have LaPorta score a basket to deadlock the game again.
Malik Green then tossed in a pair of free throws with 27.6 ticks left to provide the winning margin.
Feldmann had a chance to tie the game from the charity stripe with 1.2 seconds on the clock but he missed the first attempt to all but end the game.
Highland 54, Okawville 51
When the Highland Bulldogs needed them the most, Stephen Schniers and Jake Kruse came to the rescue Wednesday at the 57th annual Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Schniers and Kruse made 3-point field goals to help key a 12-0 scoring run midway in the fourth quarter as the second-seeded Bulldogs rallied for a 54-51 win over the Okawville Rockets.
Struggling to find the range on a day that began with a loss to Carlyle, Highland (8-3) trailed 42-33 with just under six minutes remaining following a 10-foot jumper by Rockets senior Luke Hensler.
But in danger of falling to 0-2 and out of title contention, the Bulldogs responded.
“It was just a matter of hitting some shots and executing the offense. We didn’t play well at all against Carlyle earlier in the day, and we’ve really been in kind of a funk after we beat Centralia,” Bulldogs coach Brian Perkes said. “I did a little research and discovered that we’re something like 11-24 here at this (Mater Dei) tournament. We’ve got a good ball club that hasn’t played as well as its capable of the last couple of games.
“I was happy to see us come back and play better in the fourth quarter.”
Kruse started the run with a 3-point jumper, and Schniers followed up a missed shot by Sam LaPorta with an offensive rebound and basket to cut the lead to 42-38. Two missed shots and a Rockets’ turnover resulted in baskets by LaPorta and Brady Feldmann as Highland tied the score.
The Rockets then had a chance to retake the lead, but following a missed shot by Caleb Frederking, Schniers gave Highland the lead for good with his 3-point jumper.
“We had some kids step up and make some big shots for us,” Perkes said. “Kruse, I think hit a couple of big 3-pointers and Schniers stepped up and hit the 3-point shot, which I think gave us the lead. He’s capable of doing that.”
“It was a struggle out there at times for us. But give Okawville some of the credit for that. That’s a good basketball team.”
Okawville had its chances in the final two minutes. Trailing by five points following free throws by Cameron Altadonna and Jack Etter, Okawville closed to within 51-49 on a 3-point jumper by Frederking with 50 seconds remaining.
A potential game-tying 3-point shot was blocked by a Highland defender in the closing seconds.
“We just didn’t finish well tonight. We played well to get the lead but we just didn’t close it out,” Rockets coach Jon Kraus said. “We had a couple of costly turnovers and they (Highland) had a couple of kids step up and hit 3-pointers that we didn’t expect.”
Highland featured a balanced scoring attack with four players hitting double figures.
LaPorta had 12 points, grabbed a game-best 12 rebounds and handed out a game-high five assists to lead Highland. Kruse shared team-high honors with LaPorta with 12 points. Kruse also added four rebounds. Schniers logged 11 points, five rebounds and three assists and Brady Feldmann was also in double figures with 10 points before fouling out.
Junior Will Aubel led Okawville with 13 points, while Frederking added 12.
Also chipping in for the Bulldogs were Torre with six points and four rebounds, Etter with two points and three assists and Altadonna with two points.
Carlyle 48, Highland 30
In their tournament opener, the Bulldogs’ shooting was almost as cold as the temperatures were outside. Highland did not score more than eight points in any of the four quarters and ended up shooting just 21 percent (10 for 48) from the field.
Luke Boatright topped all scorers with 26 points for Carlyle, which was almost as many points as the Bulldogs totaled in the game and accounted for more than of his team’s point total in the tournament’s first upset.
Tyler Siever added nine points and 10 rebounds for the Indians.
Schniers led led the Bulldogs with 10 points, while LaPorta pulled down a team-high seven rebounds to go with seven points and four steals. In addition, Kruse added five points and five boards.