BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MT. PLEASANT – Basketball can be a game of moments.
Fort Madison’s boys basketball team had most of their moments Thursday night in the first half, while Mt. Pleasant found their moments at starting with about two minutes left in the third quarter en route to a 62-51 win stopping the Bloodhounds’ season.
With 1:55 left in the third period Johnathon Ita converted a running jumper from about eight feet to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. The Fort Madison Bloodhounds had contained the conference’s top scorer in Brady Sartorius to six points in the first half…had contained a 6’9″ Tom O’Conner and had leads as big as 11 points against, depending on what ranking sheet you’re looking at, top 5 team in Class 3A. For 22 1/2 minutes the Bloodhounds were the better team.
And if you pull back three turnovers and a couple of questionable calls, the Bloodhounds had a real chance to come out of this game district champs. But that’s why you play all four quarters.
A turnover in the front court by Landon Bentley early in the fourth quarter and loose ball turnover by Kaleb Cresswell moments later started the unraveling. Treavor James-Kokjohn drove to his right around Kieran Kohorst and Kohorst moved with Kokjohn around to the baseline when play was stopped on an offensive charge call. The unraveling continued. Austin Rose was bumped by O’Conner in the air on a five foot jumper with no whistle.
But Wilson kept the loss in house.
“We got impatient… played in a hurry, panicked a little bit and at the end of the 2nd and 3rd quarters we weren’t very good,” he said. “We’re up 11 with 1:20 to go in the half and go in up by six. We just got a little impatient, a little careless, and it came back to get us.”
The Hounds came out of the gate convinced this game would be different than the other two conference games when the Panthers won both games by an average of 31 points.
Kokjohn connected on a 3-pointer to open the scoring for both teams. Sartorius countered with a pull up jumper from the corner of the lane, then the Hounds went on a 9-2 run highlighted by five points from CJ Richardson. Sartorius again hit a short jumper to break up the run, but Cresswell countered with a 12-footer from the right to push the FM lead to 12-5 with 2:15 left in the first quarter. O’Conner then stepped out and connected on a 3-pointer to close the gap to two 12-10. Senior Landon Bentley converted the back-end of two free throws and sophomore Logan Rashid penetrated and scored on a drive with a foul. He missed the freebie to give the Hounds a 15-10 lead at the end of 1.
Bentley then started the 2nd quarter with a running bucket in the lane from eight feet to start another 11-5 run for the Hounds that ended with a Richardson jumper to give the Hounds a 26-15 lead. Ita then tried to pull the Panthers back to single digits as he scored nine of the Panthers next 11 points including unanswered back to back buckets with about four minutes left in the half to close the gap to seven. Kokjohn answered with a put-back bucket to push the lead back to nine. Ita answered and Bentley hit a trey with 1:20 left to give the Hounds a 10 point lead. Fort Madison stopped the Panthers on the next possession and Kokjohn was fouled at the other end converting the front end of the one-and-one to push the lead to 11. But Jordan Magnani hit a 3 on the next possession, the Panthers held on the next possession down the floor and Magnani hit again before the end of the half to cut the lead to six at half.
“Mt. Pleasant wants you to play fast….that’s what they want. They’re used to playing that way and we weren’t. We give up four rebounds in the first the half and they scored on all four. If we keep that 11 point lead and we don’t turn the ball over three times we’re up 15-20 at halftime against the 3rd rated team in the state. The kids played hard and we did what we wanted but you take three minutes out of this game and we have a real chance at winning.”
The Hound shooting went chilly in the third period as Sartorius began to heat up. O’Conner started the scoring in the second half with an easy bucket inside, Kokjohn converted and was fouled converting the free throw, but the Panthers got a trey from Magnani and a bucket from Sartorius to close the gap to two at the 5:22 mark. Kokjohn hit another three pointer to give the Hounds a five point lead. Then Sartorius scored eight points coupled with a bucket from O’Conner and Ita and the Panthers were in business with a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Panthers moved out to stop the long-distance shooting of the Hounds and Cresswell and Richardson were able to score on driving layups, but the Hounds found themselves scrambling to foul and the Panthers converted 10 of 11 free throws in the final three minutes to ice the game.
“Their intensity rose and ours plateaued. But I’m proud of the way we played today,” said Richardson after the game. He gave solid advice to next year’s Bloodhounds after the game.
“Just keep putting in the work and believing in yourself because everyone saw how much we grew this year.”
Senior Austin Rose said the game is a system and the Hounds dropped that system momentarily.
“It’s all just a process really. We got down in a little slump. If we would have been playing our best earlier this year this probably would have been better tonight,” he said. “They got us in rush mode, we turned the ball over… took bad shots and they just capitalized on that.”
Kokjohn said he regretted not playing up to Wilson’s expectations all year.
“Our last three games we really played the best basketball all year. I wish we would have done that earlier in the year..listened to our coaches a little more,” he said. “They rushed us quite a bit. We needed to limit our turnovers and run our offense. But that’s the No. 3 team in the state.”
Wilson said he was proud of how the team played down the stretch but said he hopes the younger kids coming up pay attention to what happened.
“We played well the last two three weeks. I wish…I hope… these younger kids see how well we played during that stretch. We have to have this kind of play all 24 games of the year,” he said.
“Richardson played varsity three years and two years as a starter. He doesn’t question you, he just does his job. Pound for pound that kid would go against an O’Conner all day every day. That’s just how the kid is,” Wilson said. “I’m proud of all three of these seniors, there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in that. I got emotional just walking over here. You always question yourself. What could I have done different…did I call the right timeouts. These are special kids, there’s just something about them and it made it a little difficult. It’s tough to talk about and it’s gonna be tough to talk about at awards night… We had ’em.”
The final scoring for the Hounds were Kokjohn with 1 7, Richardson with 11, Cresswell with nine, Bentley with eight, Rashid and Riles each had two points.