For the Daily News
ST. ELMO —
Both participants in the first semifinal of the 53rd Annual St. Elmo Holiday Tournament went through nightmarish offensive stretches on Thursday. St. Elmo's started in the second quarter. Beecher City's followed in the third.
The difference? The host and defending champion Eagles woke up from their bad dream.
St. Elmo (5-2) somehow stayed within striking distance despite a near 11-minute drought without a field goal and surged past Beecher City for a 42-33 win, as coach Jason Eirhart's team fell apart in the second half. Brownstown won a much different game earlier in the night, topping Mulberry Grove 86-54 in a consolation semifinal that featured 48 fouls, 51 field goals and 60 free-throw attempts.
Beecher City turned the ball over nine times in the third quarter and was just 1 of 7 from the field - two big reasons Levi Maxey's 3-pointer with a little more than two minutes to go put St. Elmo up for good, 21-20, moments after it looked like St. Elmo might never score again.
The basket was part of a decisive 14-3 St. Elmo run that Maxey capped with another 3-pointer at the 5:40 mark of the fourth, putting the host team up 33-23 - a double digit lead that played like a 30-point lead on a night in which offense was at a premium.
Fortunately for coach Greg Feezel's team, it's defense was strong again, despite opting to play zone in order to take pressure off Connor Beasley's sore left ankle.
"We have trouble scoring, but I think, defensively, we're playing alright," Feezel said. "We held them to what (11) points in the second half, and we're holding teams a little over 40. But it'd be nice to score, because I think our chins go up a little higher once we score a little bit."
Maxey did not struggle on either end of the floor, however, as he finished with a game-high 21 points, four rebounds and five steals. Maxey converted four of those steals into fast-break layups.
Feezel challenged his junior point guard to pick up his intensity in the second half, and Maxey did just that.
"I thought he played a pretty well and hit some shots," Feezel said.
St. Elmo went 0-for-8 from the field and committed 10 turnovers during an 10-plus minute stretch of play late in the first half and early in the second half before Maxey drove in for a layup at the 3:23 mark of the third.
Garrett Bartels followed with a pair of free throws, and the Eagles were suddenly back on track.
A hobbled Connor Beasley followed up Maxey's go-ahead 3-pointer with a driving layup, and Ben Davis capped the host team's late-quarter surge with a big 3-pointer with six minutes to go in the frame, putting St. Elmo up 26-22.
"We usually don't bring in a kid off the bench and run a set for him," Feezel said of Davis' shot. "But that's what happened. That was a big shot for us. It was probably one of the biggest of the night. I'm really happy for him."
Maxey kicked off the fourth quarter with another big 3-pointer to put St. Elmo in complete control.
Beecher City (2-4) simply couldn't buy a bucket in the final 16 minutes, as the visiting Eagles went 5 for 19 from the field in the second half. They also committed 12 of their 20 turnovers, leaving Eirhart shaking his head.
"I know its my job to figure them out, but I haven't figured this group out yet," Eirhart said. "I just feel like we're a lot better than what we've been playing. I guess it's as much on me as it is anybody."
Beecher City was going for its first title game appearance since 2002.
Bartels finished with seven points, six rebounds and three steals for the Eagles, while Beasley had seven points and five rebounds. Beasley played despite turning his ankle on Tuesday.
"I thought Connor gutted it out a lot tonight, and I thought Garrett probably played the most all-around game," Feezel said. "He had four offensive rebounds in the first half and was on the floor when nobody else was really getting much done. I think Garrett held us together as a senior."
The tournament will resume today at 6:15 p.m. when third-seeded Cowden-Herrick (6-3) faces seventh-seeded Ramsey (1-7) in a consolation semifinal. Undefeated and second-seeded Altamont (5-0) will then take on sixth-seeded South Central (2-3). The Indians defeated the Cougars by 24 points last week in Farina.
Feezel knows that both teams would be worthy adversaries in Saturday's title game.
"Either one we play will be tough," Feezel said. "South Central, because of Fischer (Tharp) and Altamont because of their up-and-down style."
Austin Hunter's 28-point, 17-rebound double-double led the Bombers (6-3) against the Aces in the first game of the night, as Brownstown snapped a three-game losing streak.
Matt Sefton saw his string of eight-straight 20-plus point scoring games come to an end - but just barely, as the senior had 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting.
Jake Behrends added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Bombers.
Championship Semifinal 1
St. Elmo 42, Beecher City 33
B. City 11 9 2 11 - 33
St. Elmo 9 5 12 16 - 42
B. City - McKay 1-1 0-2 2, Doty 1-2 0-0 2, Lagerhausen 2-3 0-0 4, Riley 4-6 1-4 10, Krueger 2-11 2-2 8, Barnes 3-5 1-2 7, Kenter 0-2 0-0 0, Bales 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 13-34 4-10 33.
St. Elmo - Bartels 1-4 5-7 7, Brady 0-1 1-2 1, Beasley 2-10 2-3 7, L.Maxey 7-16 4-6 21, Smithson 1-2 0-0 2, Davis 1-2 1-2 4. Totals 12-36 13-20 42.
3-point goals - St. Elmo 5 (L.Maxey 3, Davis, Beasley), B. City 3 (Riley 1, Krueger 2). Rebounds - St. Elmo 16 (Bartels 6, Beasley 5, L.Maxey 4), Beecher City 22 (Riley 7, Barnes 4). Turnovers - Beecher City 20, St. Elmo 13. Fouled out - McKay.
Consolation Semifinal 1
Brownstown 86, Mulberry Grove 54
Mulberry Grove 9 14 14 15 - 54
Brownstown 10 21 25 30 - 86
Mulberry Grove - Latham 4-18 0-0 9, Dawson 4-12 4-7 13, Miller 6-11 2-2 14, Williamson 2-11 1-1 5, James 0-1 0-0 0, Phillips 4-10 4-6 12, Street 2-3 0-3 4. Totals 21-65 10-19 54.
Brownstown - M.Sefton 8-9 2-8 19, Hunter 12-26 4-4 28, Behrends 2-14 11-15 15, J.Sefton 1-1 0-0 3, Matthews1-2 0-0 2, Lawson 2-4 0-1 4, Frailey 2-3 3-9 7, Oberlink 1-1 4-5 6, Hall 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 30-63 24-41 86.
3-point goals - M. Grove 2 (Latham, Dawson), Brownstown (J.Sefton, Matthews). Rebounds - Brownstown 46 (Hunter 17, Behrends 9, Frailey 6, Oberlink 5), Mulbery Grove 31 (Street 7, Phillips 6, Williamson 6). Turnovers - Brownstown 24, Mulberry Grove 21.