Up by seven points with eight minutes remaining Tuesday, the Gibault Hawks seemed well in position to make their second state basketball trip in school history.
The Liberty Eagles refused to cooperate with that scenario, outscoring Gibault 15-4 in the fourth quarter and holding the Hawks scoreless for the final 6 minutes, 23 seconds in a 41-37 victory at the Class 1A Jacksonville Super-Sectional.
“I think I’d rather play in a game like this than get whacked, but yeah, it’s going to be tough no matter what,” Gibault coach Dennis Rueter said after his team’s season ended in the Jacksonville Super-Sectional for the second time in three years. “We talked about it 2 1/2 weeks ago, when you lose it’s going to be discouraging.
“It’s going to be depressing. I don’t care when you lose — and unless you win the state championship you’re going to lose. When you lose it’s going to be depressing - and it is.”
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I don’t care when you lose — and unless you win the state championship you’re going to lose. When you lose it’s going to be depressing - and it is.
Gibault coach Dennis Rueter
Liberty (29-4) trailed 33-26 after three quarters and was still down by six early in the fourth quarter. The Eagles cashed in their state tourney reservation by hitting seven of eight shots in the fourth quarter and turning up the defensive intensity on the Hawks.
“We turned up the intensity a little bit and found a sense of urgency,” said Liberty senior Cole Wellman, whose 13 points tied for the team scoring lead with Reed Wolfmeyer. “We knew we had to go get it and bring it home.”
Were the Eagles, who will face LeRoy on Friday at the 1A state tourney in Peoria, ever worried that Gibault was about to put things away?
“A couple times,” Wellman said. “ Don’t quite know how we pulled it out yet, but a couple times we got down a little bit and we just kept coming back at them.”
The Eagles carved into the Hawks lead in the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run that reached 12-2 when Wellman dropped in a shot with 1:52 remaining to make it 41-37. Neither team scored after that as Gibault hit one of 10 shots in the fourth quarter and was 2-for-14 from beyond the 3-point arc in the game.
We turned up the intensity a little bit and found a sense of urgency. We knew we had to go get it and bring it home.
Liberty senior Cole Wellman
The Hawks also missed their final nine shots
Gibault senior center Brian Deterding missed his first two shots before hitting his final eight in a row on the way to a game-high 17 points. The 6-foot-5 Deterding shredded the smaller Eagles inside, but Liberty’s pressure made it tough for the Gibault guards and he had only one shot in the final eight minutes.
“They pressured us really badly and we couldn’t handle the quickness,” Deterding said. “We couldn’t get the ball across halfcourt without turning it over and once we got it across halfcourt we couldn’t get it in the post.
“They were too quick and we turned the ball over way too many times. That’s the sad part about it is we can shoot threes. We’re a good shooting team, but we just couldn’t hit a shot.”
Trevor Davis added nine points for Gibault, which committed 14 turnovers, while Garrett Rueter added eight.
Liberty caught fire after Wolfmeyer drained a 3-pointer to open the third quarter. Wolfmeyer and Wellman each finished with 13 points and an offense that had been unable to crack Gibault’s defensive pressure most of the night suddenly found some breathing room.
“We’re a pretty veteran group, so we try to keep our composure,” Wellman said. “We keep everything nice and calm and just go play basketball.”
Gibault missed its first six shots, conjuring up memories of a tough shooting night at their last super-sectional appearance in Jacksonville two years ago.
Liberty used a 6-0 run to open up a 12-6 lead on the Hawks early in the second quarter, but Gibault responded with a 10-0 run of its own. Deterding had eight points in the first half as the smaller Eagles had no answer for his close shots around the rim,