While it was a vast improvement over their first meeting against Central this season, a 65-45 defeat on Jan. 6, the Wesclin Warriors still ended Round 2 with another loss.
The Warriors wiped out a 16-point deficit in the first half and came flying back to lead for a while, but the Cougars re-emerged to gain control in the fourth quarter and delivered a 56-51 Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division victory.
Central junior Logan Kohrmann scored eight of his game-high 22 points in the final eight minutes to help hold off a furious comeback bid by Wesclin. Kohrmann also was big at the defensive end, limiting Wesclin scoring leader Jarad Steenbergen to just three points and a 1-for-8 shooting night.
“Wesclin hasn’t beaten Central in quite a while,” Wesclin coach Brent Brede said after his 17-8 team fell to 6-2 in league play. “You have to have a feeling that you can win, too. I’m not sure if our kids are in that position yet. I don’t think they necessarily expect to lose, but at the same time I don’t know if the expect to win. I, as a coach, have got to do a better job of preparing for a game like that.”
Wesclin scored only two points in the opening quarter, then poured in 21 in the second with center Jake Stephens heating up quickly. Stephens finished the night with 20 points.
Central (21-6, 8-1) tried to run the Warriors right out of their own gym early, jumping out to a commanding 14-2 lead after the first quarter. Wesclin missed 12 of its first 13 shots and had six turnovers while the Cougars’ offense was on full throttle.
A quick 3-pointer in the second quarter by Brendan Bernhardt helped stop the bleeding and Wesclin got rolling despite three fouls by Stephens. Stephens and Bernhardt each scored eight points during the second quarter to fortify a 9-0 Warrior run that reached 13-2 by halftime, cutting the Central lead to 28-23.
“The three fouls on Stephens kind of affected us a little bit too,” Central coach Jeremy Shubert said. “We were like ‘Do we attack or don’t we attack?’ We just kind of got out of sorts and then we didn’t beat (Stephens) to spots like we talked about doing. Give him credit, he had a big game for them keeping them in there. They’re a scrappy team.”
Kohrmann helped keep Wesclin within reach with his defensive work on the speedy Steenbergen, who came in averaging just under 12 points.
“He’s pretty quick,” Kohrmann said. “They always told me to just use my legnth on him because I’ve got a few inches, but he’s a good player.”
Central also got 16 points and eight rebounds from Jack Strieker and six points and 10 rebounds from Robbie Harmon. Brendan Bernhardt added 16 points for Wesclin.
Wesclin’s run reached 15-2 early in the third quarter and Steenbergen’s only bucket of the night, a 3-pointer, tied it 34-34. Another 3-pointer by Michael Thoele gave Wesclin’s its first lead and the Warriors carried a 3-point lead into the fourth quarter.
While Central hit only 12-of-20 free throws in the fourth quarter, it still was enough to keep the Warriors out of harm’s way.
Some tight defense also contributed to Wesclin missing all nine of its 3-point shots in the final quarter.
Brede liked the way his team fought, but the slow start proved tough to overcome.
“We dug ourselves quite a hole,” Brede said. “To be only down five at half after the first quarter was really unbelievable. As bad as we were in the first quarter, it was actually shocking to only be down five at half.
“The ball didn’t get inside as easily in the fourth quarter as it did early in the game. I think that was a big difference.”
Brede also liked the way Stephens emerged from early foul trouble to become the team’s top scorer.
“If there was one thing I will say very positively about this game is that young man has come a long way this year,” Brede said. “He’s growing up as a basketball player. We didn’t do enough early in the game to put ourselves in the best position to win.”