After last week's seven-point win over Red Cloud, St.Thomas More boys' basketball coach Dave Hollenbeck said he wanted his team to get a little tougher.
He wasn't talking about mental toughness that night, but Tuesday night the Cavaliers showed plenty of mental toughness.
STM held off several runs from Hot Springs, and made big free throws down the stretch to get a big Black Hills Conference win 78-65 at home.
"I thought we did a nice job of going on some runs there to keep them at arms length," Hollenbeck said. "Then every time we’d get a cushion, they’d come back with some big 3s."
The Bison showed plenty of mental toughness as well. They spotted STM a 12-1 lead early, but came back to make it game throughout, as a barrage of 3-pointers in the final minutes made the score 70-62 with 1:20 remaining in the contest.
"I thought we played hard, but we came out a little bit sluggish and that hurt us. This is a resilient group of guys, and they battled back," Hot Springs coach Aaron Noteboom said. "I thought there were some things that didn’t go our way, but for the most part we adjusted well."
After the slow start, the Bison closed the gap to 14-9 at the end of the first quarter. Seven quick points from Matt Norton, who finished with 24 points, lifted Hot Springs.
Three-pointers were a big key for Hot Springs, getting the score to 25-20 in the second quarter before the Cavs responded with a run to make it 31-22 at the break.
"They’re a nice team, they shoot the ball really well. We had a tough time guarding the perimeter," Hollenbeck said. "They play really hard, they play good defense."
The story was the same in the third quarter, as STM went up 13 points, but Hot Springs cut it to single digits. At the end of the third quarter the Cavs led 49-39.
In the fourth quarter the largest lead for STM was 61-48 before Norton started hitting more 3-pointers to cut it eight. In the final minutes, however, turnovers hurt Hot Springs and the Cavaliers were able to knock down free throws to secure the win.
"I thought there were a little bit of nerves from both sides for awhile there, it was kind of a helter-skelter game. If we can take care of the ball a little bit better, we probably make it a better game," Noteboom said. "Anytime you play a team like STM, you’re really trying to make a statement. I thought that led to a little bit of nerves."
Besides Norton's 24, Morgan Harkless had 16 points and Kelton Harris scored 13 for the Bison.
The Cavaliers had five scorers in double digits. Ryder Kirsch led the way with 20 points, followed by Ryan Wojcik with 18 points. Also for STM, Connor Hollenbeck finished with 11 points and Michael Gylten and Caden Casey added 10 each.
"I think we got out and ran our stuff well. People kept their heads up, knocked down shots, and the inside was open so that was pretty good," Kirsch said. "We need to work on our defense, but that the end of the year, I think we’ll be a solid team."
Beyond the 65 points given up, the Cavaliers took three charges in the game. Hollenbeck said he was pleased with that, but he still thinks STM can be tougher. Kirsch agreed.
"We took more charges, but our defense wasn’t as good as we were hoping," he said. "We have a lot to work on the getting tougher."
Kirsch did say that when the other team makes a run, he and his teammates don't panic. That's partly why they were able to hold off Hot Springs.
"Everyone feeds off each other," he said. "When they hit a shot, everyone knows in their mind that we need to answer."
The win moves STM to 14-2 on the season. It will go on the road to face Hill City Saturday before hosting Belle Fourche Tuesday for senior night.
It will be another week of preparation, but Hollenbeck said he thought the preparation in the past week made it possible for STM to hold off Hot Springs.
"They’re a nice ball club, they’re going to win some more games. There’s a reason they’ve won 14 so far. They play really hard, they play good defense and they’ll be a tough out at tournament time," Hollenbeck said of the Bison. "We knew we were going to have a tough game tonight, and we prepared all week for a tough game. We wanted to come ready to play."
Hot Springs falls to 14-3 and will be on the road Saturday against Custer, before hosting Spearfish Tuesday.