To get where the Sturgis boys’ basketball team wants to be at the end of the season — at the state tournament — the Scoopers need to play defense. Head coach Colin McCampbell can’t emphasize it enough.
The Scoopers, 10-3, turned to their defense in the fourth period and pulled past St. Thomas More 54-44 Thursday night at the STM Gymnasium.
It was just in time for Sturgis, as both teams were tied heading into the fourth quarter.
While he was pleased with his team’s fourth-quarter defense, McCampbell would like to see some consistency out of his team in that area.
“Our fourth quarter defense was pretty good, but what I would like to convince our kids, if they could play like that all of the time, we would be a better team,” he said. “I’m tired watching us pick and choose when we can defend. When we defend, we’re a pretty good team. When we don’t defend, we’re not as good, and St. Thomas More took it to us.”
The Scoopers have the firepower on offense, led by seniors Dawson Geuke and Connor Crane, and junior Ryan Garland; the trio combined for 41 points.
“We have to work hard on defense; obviously we have enough offensive tools,” Crane said. “It really comes down on the defensive end for us.”
The two teams battled evenly throughout the first three quarters, tied at 10-10 at the end of one, with the Cavaliers up 29-25 at halftime. It was a 37-37 game heading into the fourth as the two teams combined for five 3-pointers to close the quarter — two each by Crane, two by STM’s Ryder Kirsch and one by the Scoopers’ Taylor Eby.
After STM led 39-37, the Scoopers got going with nine straight points (seven by Garland) and never looked back.
STM coach Dave Hollenbeck said the Cavaliers shot themselves in the foot in the fourth quarter.
“We had three turnovers in the first half and nine in the second half,” Hollenbeck said. “That was the difference in the game.
“I thought we competed well in the first half,” Hollenbeck added. “We were able to get to the foul line. In the second half, amazingly they (Sturgis) only had two fouls, so we couldn’t get to the foul line. I have to give Coach McCampbell a lot of credit, they played good defense.”
Garland finished with 17 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. Crane added 15 and Geuke nine. The Scoopers hit eight pointers.
“I thought our guys defended well in the first three quarters, and we let some guys get loose in the fourth,” Hollenbeck said. “They are well coached and they have a nice ballclub. Those three kids out on the perimeter are hard to guard; they had 41 of their 54 points. We knew those were their three guys and they still got loose, so that’s a credit to them.”
Joe Poeppel led the Cavaliers, 6-7, with 15 points and Kirsch added 10.
“St. Thomas More is well-prepared and they are well-coached,” McCampbell said. “We knew it was going to be a battle and watching them on film, they are much improved from when we saw them earlier.”
Crane said they are working on defense every day in practice.
“That’s all we can do at this point of the season. I feel we’re getting better and we’re going to be better by the end of the season,” he said.
The Scoopers return to action tonight when they host Belle Fourche, while STM hosts Chadron, Nebraska, on Feb. 2.
STM girls take control in second half
The St. Thomas More girls' basketball team got a battle that it wanted from Sturgis, although the score was a little more lop-sided than the play out on the court.
The Cavs led by just 10 in the third period before pulling away for a 63-37 victory Thursday night at the STM Gym.
"I think this is one of the most physical, athletic teams that we will face," STM coach Brandon Kandolin said. "Their ability to jump and get into gaps; if you aren't strong and hold your position, they will make you play for it."
These type of wins are much more beneficial for the four-time Class A state champions than blowout victories at this point of the season.
"If we can face teams like this every game or every day in practice, that learning curve would certainly go up," he said. "This is a great time to see this type of game, especially knowing Tuesday (Belle Fourche) that is very good and very athletic."
The Cavaliers, 13-1, led 17-10 at the end of the first quarter and 31-17 at halftime, before the Scoopers battled back to cut the lead to 34-24. STM, however, used a 10-2 run to regain the momentum.
Sturgis coach Jordan Proefrock was pleased with her team's effort and improvement since the first time the two teams met earlier in the season.
"I think the point spread doesn't show how close it really was," she said. "We have a really big game (Friday), we play Belle Fourche at home. That's another one we think we can compete in and hopefully win. We had to take our starters out to kind of save them a little bit. We kept it close and played hard, which is what we wanted to do."
STM senior Jayden Bies, who had a consistent game with 22 points — 11 in each half — said they knew it was going to be a tougher game than the first meeting.
"They are a really good team, and they beat some good teams this season," Bies said. "We knew they would come out aggressive, so we knew we had to match their toughness. We played how we needed to."
And that was be physical themselves, Bies added.
"They play really hands on and try for all of the loose balls," she said. "We had to dig deep."
Aislinn Duffy finished with 16 points, including 10 in the first period, while Klaire Kirsch added 12.
Sturgis was paced by Brook Janz and Olivia Jolley with 12 points each.
The Scoopers, 5-8, host unbeaten Belle Fourche tonight, while STM, 13-1, is at Belle Fourche on Tuesday.