Almost always a fight to the finish, the Central Cougars capitalized upon an 8-2 run to open the fourth quarter to pave the way for a 49-41 victory over the Mater Dei Knights on Saturday.
After a quiet first half, where he scored just four points, senior forward Jack Strieker helped key Central’s late charge with a pair of baskets.
The second of those buckets, a shot where he sliced through the lane on his way to the hoop, gave the Cougars a 32-25 lead with 5:50 remaining, as Central (21-3) went onto post its 19th consecutive win in front of a packed house on Breast Cancer Awareness night at Central High School.
“We started getting past those nerves there in the second half, started hitting some shots,” said Strieker. “And they play some real physical defense and it took some of our younger guys a while to get used to that.
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“But we did a better job of controlling the tempo there in the fourth quarter.”
Cougars coach Jeremy Shubert, whose team is ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Class 3A poll, certainly was pleased with Strieker’s performance down the stretch. The 6-foot-3 forward scored 10 of his 17 game-high points in the final quarter. He also topped both teams with 15 rebounds.
“What a game he had,” said Schubert. “He’s got a lot on his table right now, but he found a way to give us 110 percent.
“He played defense, grabbed a ton of rebounds, hit some shots over the top of their zone to help keep that lead at three to five points late.”
Four times, Mater Dei pulled within four in the late going – the final time at 41-37 with under 90 seconds to go. But Central almost always answered with points on the other end to keep the Knights at bay.
The bulk of that damage came at the free-throw line, where the Cougars sank 12 of 16 in the fourth quarter and were 13 for 18 on the night.
Poor shooting from the field is what cost the Knights a chance at victory, according to Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg.
Mater Dei hit just 13 of 47 shots from the field. The Knights led 9-7 after the opening quarter and it was tied at 15 at halftime.
“I’m not going to give them too much credit, you’ve got to hit your shots,” said Schadegg, whose team dropped to 13-9. “We did the most with our chances inside, but our two perimeter shooters, if they would have hit their shots, I would have liked our chances better.”
Leading 25-23 after three quarters, Central scored five points in the opening minute of the final period.
Kolby Schulte opened the sequence hitting the front end of a one-on-one. He missed the second, but Strieker cashed in an offensive rebound.
Senior Carter Troung capped the run converting a 3-point play in transition to make it 31-23.
Schulte joined Strieker in double figures for Central with 11 points. Mason Toennies led Mater Dei with 13 points.