After losing twice to Nashville this season by a combined 25 points, the Mater Dei Knights executed a remarkable turnaround Friday in the championship game of the Class 2A Carlyle Regional.
The Knights rolled out to leads of 10-0 and 20-4, hammering out a surprisingly easy 60-40 victory over a Nashville team that finished second in the state last season.
Mater Dei senior center Nolan Gerling led the way with 21 points and Ben Lampe added 11 as the Knights repeatedly attacked the interior of Nashville’s 3-2 zone defense with much success.
Even in his most positive pregame thoughts, Mater Dei coach Ron Schadegg probably did not envision this type of victory coming. Nashville (27-4) was ranked fourth in the final 2A state poll while Mater Dei (21-10) was 10th.
“Absolutely not, but that’s why I came here — to coach Mater Dei and to win regionals,” Schadegg said. “I’m just blessed to be in this position and obviously Nashville is a great basketball team, but our kids were ready to play from the tip to the finish tonight. We kind of put them on their heels.”
Mater Dei advanced to the 2A Wood River Sectional and will face Greenville at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinal. Greeville won a regional title with a 52-41 victory over Hillsboro.
Schadegg said Mater Dei’s early avalanche of offensive destruction made all the difference in this one. The Knights had lost 60-48 and 48-35 to Nashville previously.
“The last two times they beat us, they got off to a good start and we always played from behind,” Schadegg said. “If we could turn it around a little bit and put some pressure on them, which they haven’t been in that situation very much this year, we thought it would certainly benefit us. I think it did.”
Mater Dei led 10-0 before most of the overflow crowd of nearly 1,200 even got settled. The Hornets fell behind 15-2 and 20-4, hitting just two of their first 13 shots. A 3-pointer by Zack Deiters at the end of the first quarter kept the Mater Dei momentum alive.
Nashville picked up intensity at the defensive end as the first half progressed with the Knights committing 11 first-half turnovers. The Hornets cut into the lead a bit with an 8-2 run, but Mater Dei still led 26-15 at halftime.
“You’ve got to credit them, I thought they played a whale of a game and they’re very capable of that,” Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. “Once they got the lead, like my son (assistant Patrick Weathers) says we’re not really built to play from behind. They were able to spread us out and when we had to go man(-to-man) and chase a little bit, their quickness at the guard spots really finished it off.”
Nashville got 15 points from junior center Royce Newman and 10 from Daniel Thorson, but the Hornets were 2-for-16 from 3-point range.
Mater Dei guards kept feeding the 6-foot-8 Gerling the ball inside the Nashville zone defense and the active big man was more than happy to thank them for their assistance. He was 10-for-14 from the floor and scored eight straight points in the third quarter to keep any comeback thoughts out of the Honets’ minds.
“The key to that defense is getting behind it,” Schadegg said. “We made some adjustments and did some things in preparation to make sure we got good looks behind it. Our guys did a great job of breaking it down and did a tremendous job of finishing around the basket.”
Weathers also felt Gerling was the biggest difference from the previous two Nashville wins over the Knights.
Another difference was Mater Dei’s aggressive defense and edge in quickness.
“I tell you what, everybody talks about Central’s defense,” Schadegg said. “Mater Dei plays defense. We play defense and we’ve been playing defense since about midway through the season, that’s what’s really helped us propel our season. We get after it and they bought into it.”
Nashville has a lot of weapons, but was never able to dig itself out from under Mater Dei’s early blitz.
“No doubt about it, they came out and scored quickly and inside, got off to a great start,” Weathers said. “We were struggling to score. I thought we did a great job to cut it to 11 at half.
“They penetrated our zone, they did a lot of high-low and they really got their big kids involved against us this time. We were able to contain Gerling the last two times we played, but tonight they really got him the ball well.”