Althoff didn’t claim the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic championship in December, but it made amends for it Saturday.
Junior Brendon Gooch scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Crusaders rallied twice to defeat St. Louis University High 73-67 and win the Chick-fil-A Classic at Belleville East.
It marked the first time since 2003 that the Crusaders (17-2) had won the tournament.
“We came up short at Collinsville,” the 6-foot-6 Gooch said. “Even though we lost, we still worked hard. We came out and said we wanted to win this tournament this week. So we just practiced hard and we wanted it.”
Junior Tarkus Ferguson had 15 points for Althoff and sophomore Jordan Goodwin, despite spending much of the fourth quarter on the bench with four fouls, had 13 points. Sophomore Marvin Bateman also reached double figures with 11.
The 6-3 Goodwin was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, largely based on his 35-point, 16-rebound performance of Friday against McCluer.
“We had to find different ways,” said Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose team trailed 58-54 early in the fourth quarter before taking the lead for good with a 9-0 run. “We don’t milk that clock very well. We wouldn’t make it as a dairy farmer. I mean, geez Louise, I haven’t seen teams run four seconds off the clock and consider that a delay game.”
Despite the Crusaders’ struggles with clock-management, they improved to 17-2 and continued to prove they will be a tough team to contain in the postseason.
And with junior Keenen Young on the verge of rejoining the lineup after a season-long ankle injury, even brighter days could be ahead in the final month-plus of the season.
Althoff, which was 6-for-20 from the free-throw line against McCluer, was 26-for-35 against SLUH (9-8). The Crusaders needed every one of them, as the Junior Billikens battled tooth-and-nail for the entire 32 minutes.
“We were better. Like I told you, (Tom) Brady didn’t get ahold of the basketballs this game,” Leib said, a reference to the New England Patriots’ quarterback. “They were bouncing a little better (tonight); we had the right air in them. We didn’t want to have the ‘Deflate Gate,’ or ‘Inflate Gate,’ like we did (Friday).”
Althoff was seeded first in the Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic, but a loss to Collinsville killed its bid for a title. Winning at East was sweet for Leib.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “It’s such a tough tournament and we’ve had opportunities in the past. All the credit goes to the kids. They made plays when they needed to, found the open guys. And Gooch was banking 3s out there.”
The Junior Billikens took off out of the gate, racking up leads of 5-0 and 9-1. Althoff recovered, however, to lead 20-19 after the first quarter and 38-32 at halftime.
SLUH grabbed its 58-54 lead with 6:48 to play on a steal and layup by sophomore Brent Smith, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
But when sophomore C.J. Coldon hit two free throws with 4:32 to play, the Crusaders led 59-58 and they would not relinquish the advantage.
The Junior Billikens were within four on two occasions in the finals 2:07 before Althoff used a 6-1 push to take control. Sophomore Marvin Bateman’s putback made it 72-63 with 27 seconds to play, sending Crusaders fans into a celebration.
Gooch was 4 when Althoff last won the title at East.
“That’s a long time,” Gooch said. “It always feels good to win a championship.”
Gooch said the Crusaders couldn’t have done it without Goodwin.
“He’s incredible,” Gooch said. “He’s a great player. He’s so unselfish. I love playing with him.”
SLUH sophomore Brandon McKissic led all scorers with 24 points. McKissic made the all-tournament team with Jordan, East sophomore Javon Pickett, McCluer sophomore Ryan Warren-Hogue and West sophomore Tyler Dancy.
Belleville East 63, McCluer 50: The Lancers gained one of their most impressive victories of the season as sophomore Rico Sylvester scored a game-high 17 points.
Pickett and senior Brady Schanuel had 15 points apiece.
Lancers coach Abel Schrader said Sylvester is making daily progress.
“He’s getting some confidence in himself a little bit and not just settling for the 3-point shot,” Schrader said. “He’s using his dribble and getting to the basket. He’s just playing with a lot more confidence, and we need that from him.
“What we’ve got to remember is Rico and Javon are sophomores and they’re playing in a very tough (Southwestern) conference. We play good competition night in and night out.”
East (7-11) led 28-21 at halftime and took control with a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter. A rebound basket by Pickett made it 40-31, a free throw by junior Drew Millas made it 41-31 and Sylvester followed with a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 44-31.
The Lancers stretched their lead to 56-42 with 2:09 to play on a free throw by Millas.
McCluer (5-8) was led by Warren-Hogue’s 13 points.
Belleville West 64, Normandy 29: The Maroons, like Belleville East and Althoff before them, found the junior-laden Vikings easy pickings as they finished the tournament 2-1.
West (7-10) scored the first seven points, and after the Normandy (3-14) got within 9-6, it tallied the next nine and was in firm control for the remainder of the contest.
The Maroons, who were topped by senior Eugene Jones’ 15 points, led 42-24 at halftime and held the Vikings to five points in the third and fourth quarters.
“I feel like we played all right,” Jones said. “We weren’t playing good defense (in the first half). That was what (coach Joe Muniz) was saying in the locker room. They scored five points in the second half. That’s what we were saying.”
Senior Demond White chipped in with 14 points for West and junior Tony Bean came off the bench and scored 10.
West led by 30 points entering the fourth quarter, which ignited a continuous running clock. Normandy scored just 44 points in three tournament games.
The Maroons will play at East at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.