The Althoff Crusaders, last year’s Class 3A state basketball runners-up, began their run at unfinished business against Waterloo at the Battling Bulldogs Thanksgiving Tournament Monday.
But eight members of head coach Greg Leib’s roster, including four starters, weren’t even there. Why? They’ll be chasing the Holy Grail of 4A football this weekend in Dekalb.
Althoff outlasted Waterloo, 50-44, behind a cast of fill-ins led by junior Dante Ray and his game-high 22 points.
Even with the big game, Ray — who scored 16 points all of last season — has no illusions about his place on the team.
Never miss a local story.
“I’ll always be a role player,” he said. “I know my position and what I have to do when I get in the game.”
Althoff coach Greg Leib promoted several junior varsity players to fill out the roster for the Waterloo Tournament, which has made preparation for the season a challenge, Ray said.
I'll always be a role player. I know my position and what I have to do when I get in the game.
Dante Ray, Althoff junior who scored a game-high 22 points
“The chemistry is getting better and better, but the first couple of practices we had no chemistry because we had new kids,” he said. “I thought today we clicked really well, hit the open guy when he was open, made good passes.”
By the time the Crusaders play their season finale Saturday at 5 p.m., they could have their full roster intact — the football team plays for the state championship against Chicago Phillips Friday night.
“If they’re healthy, they’ll play Saturday,” Leib said.
First-year Waterloo coach Dane Walter put a young team on the floor Monday as well, staring four juniors and one sophomore. His only senior, center Tristen Schneider played just eight minutes.
“We played pretty well, especially on the defensive end,” Walter said. “We spread out their shooters and made them to shoot deep. They just got a couple of those to fall late.”
Waterloo held a two-point lead at halftime and opened it to 25-17 early on baskets by Dylan Hunt early in the third quarter. That was the Bulldogs’ biggest lead of the game.
Althoff tied the game at 29-29 when junior Marvin Bateman, who had been held scoreless to that point, hit the first of three 3-point baskets within the next two minutes of play. It gave Althoff the last lead it would need.
“Once you get that first one to fall, it gets a lot easier,” Bateman said.
We played pretty well, especially on the defensive end. We spread out their shooters and made them to shoot deep. They just got a couple of those to fall late.
Dane Williams, first-year Waterloo head coach
Bateman’s hot hand from behind the arc was key to holding Waterloo at bay. The Bulldogs kept the pressure on, closing to within three points on a Griffin Lenhardt basket with 1:56 left.
“We’ve seen Marvin run off a string of those kinds of shots before,” Leib said. “We needed them because Waterloo is a good team. They kept it on us.”
Bateman finished with 13 points and Brendan Gooch, the only starter on the floor for Althoff, scored 12.
Junior guard Ben Huels led Waterloo with 16 points including a pair of 3-point baskets in the first half. Lenhardt finished with 11.
The Waterloo Tournament continues Tuesday. The Crusaders (1-0) face Highland (0-1) at 6:30 p.m. and Waterloo (0-1) takes on O’Fallon (0-1) at 5 p.m.
Battling Bulldog Thanksgiving Tournament
5 p.m. O’Fallon v. Waterloo
6:30 p.m. Althoff v. Highland
8 p.m. Edwardsville v. Carbondale