BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Holy Trinity boys basketball team had upset on its mind Thursday night when the 14-4 New London Tigers came calling.
But the Crusaders gave up too many offensive boards to the Tigers and missed some crucial free throws down the stretch en route to a 59-40 loss in Southeast Iowa Superconference action.
“If we’d made some free throws and would have cut their offense boards in half I think we could have had a one possession game,” said Head Coach John Hellige.
Holy Trinity was coming off an upset of 9-9 Danville last week, but were swatted by Wapello on Tuesday 90-57 and now stand at 4-14 with Burlington Notre Dame on the horizon Tuesday night.
The Crusaders were clearly in the mood to slow the game down, trailing just 5-6 with 2:37 left in the first quarter. Keontae Luckett converted with a floater in the lane to put New London up by three and then scored again with :39 left in the period to double up the Crusaders 10-5.
Both teams shared about four turnovers starting the second period before the Tigers’ Isaac McSorley got the scoring started with 10-foot jumper countered by HTC’s Matt Hellige to keep the lead at 5. It looked like New London had shifted a gear when they went on a 6-0 run before sophomore Quentin Schneider threw water on it with a three-pointer from the right baseline to make it a 10-18 game with 3:50 left in the half.
The Crusaders wouldn’t get another bucket in the half, but did get to the free throw line and converted 6 of 6, four by Hellige to cut the Tigers’ lead to seven. After Blake Crabtree converted two free throws, the Tigers rolled the inbound pass halfway up the court before Luckett picked it up with five seconds left and pitched it over to Mason Porter, who calmly sank a 3-ball just before the buzzer to give the Tigers a 10-point lead at halftime.
Holy Trinity looked to make a game of it at the front of quarter three. Schneider opened the quarter with a baseline drive and layup to cut it 18-26. The Tigers got two buckets from McSorley, but sophomore Reed Fehseke, who finished with 10 points on the night, connected on his second 3-pointer of the night from about 22 feet at the top of the key. Luckett scored inside but then Fehseke hit again to make it an eight-point game.
The Crusaders would get two more 3-pointers, which was four in a row without a miss, from Brant Holtkamp and senior Collin Thornton. The Tigers then took over on the boards converting their next three buckets on second and third attempts with the Crusaders not being able to secure rebounds on the Tigers’ end. When all was said and done, the Tigers had pulled out to a 42-32 lead with Luckett scoring eight in the run. Schneider and Fehseke each had two free throws in the mix, but only Fehseke converted one of the freebies.
In the final period, Thornton outscored New London 9-5 in the early going, but then McSorley hit a 3-ball to make it an 11-point game. Schneider missed the front end of a one-and-one and then Luckett, who finished with 21 to lead all scorers, connected on a 3-pointer from the left side to make it a 12-point game before Hellige called a time out. Thornton scored out of the timeout. McSorley hit another 3-pointer on the next possession. Thornton then missed on the front end of a one-and-one and the Tigers’ Alex Dentlinger hit inside to make it a 15-point game and the Crusaders wouldn’t score again.
“We tried to play a controlled game. We wanted New London to come at us and get upset without putting 60 to 70 points up,” Hellige said. “We wanted to slow them down and get them anxious and then attack at the right moments, that was the game plan.”
Hellige said it was a night and day difference from the last time the Crusaders played in New London.
“They’re growing and it’s really been fun to watch these guys develop,” he said. “It hasn’t always equaled ‘W’s but seeing the transformation from New London there and New London here, it’s been pretty remarkable. They’re arguably the best team in the district.”
Hellige said Thornton played well on senior night and threw out praise for Ryan Rees, who transferred over from FMHS in the middle of the year and got in the game in the final minutes but missed a couple shots at the buzzer.
“He’s the hardest working kid in practice,” Hellige said. “He mops the floor with his jersey because he’s all over the place. He communicates well and helps everywhere. If we’d had him as sophomore we would have had something.”
Thornton had 11 points to lead HTC, followed by Fehseke’s 10, and Matt Hellige’s eight points. Schneider put in six, Holtkamp had three, and Crabtree added two points to round out the scoring for HTC.
The Crusaders take on Burlington Notre Dame on Tuesday night before the boys SEISC shootout next Friday. The location and opponent have yet to be determined.