Cold second half dooms Panthers
By Andy Krutsinger, Mt. Pleasant News
DES MOINES — It just wasn’t meant to be for the Mt. Pleasant boys’ basketball team on Tuesday evening at Wells Fargo.
The Panthers led defending 3A champion Cedar Rapids Xavier for the vast majority of the first half and even held an eight-point advantage at one time, but a rough third quarter led to the Panthers’ 59-44 demise.
The game started out much better for Mt. Pleasant than their previous matchups with the Saints.
Tom O’Connor made his presence felt early, scoring five points to lead the Panthers to an early 5-2 lead. The Saints would take a brief lead but the Panthers controlled the game throughout the first quarter.
Jordan Magnani led the way with six points and the Panthers’ fast paced style led to their best offensive quarter. Brady Sartorius hit two free throws to end the period and the Panthers led, 18-13, after the first eight minutes.
The second quarter looked a lot like the first for the majority of the period. The Panthers took their biggest lead when Kieran Kohorst hit a jumper to make it 21-13 with 6:09 left in the half.
Xavier would scrap back, however, to close the quarter on a 9-2 run.
Trailing by six points with 1:18 left in the half, Xavier junior Gabe Lux hit just his second three-pointer of the season and Matt Mims hit a layup with 33 seconds left, allowing the Saints to cut the lead to one point, at 23-22 going into the locker room.
“We had a one-point lead (and) I thought we were playing well,” said Mt. Pleasant head coach Paul Rundquist about the first half. “We were in good shape foul wise. I thought the game plan was played to a tee, just how we wanted it to go.”
But when the third quarter rolled around, things started to turn sour for Mt. Pleasant.
Xavier started the second half off on an 11-2 run, capped off by a Jackson Joens jumper that made it 33-25 with 4:31 left in the third.
O’Connor broke the run with a layup of his own and Sartorius knocked down a jump shot to slice the lead in half, at 33-29, but that was as close as the Panthers would come.
The Saints closed the third quarter on a 12-6 run, which ended on a three-pointer by Quinn Schulte with just three ticks left that put Mt. Pleasant’s back against the wall at 45-35 after three periods.
Mt. Pleasant went with a smaller lineup for much of the fourth quarter to try and create turnovers, but Xavier scored off the Panther press with layup after layup to stretch the lead to as much as 18 points in the final period.
The Panthers would get the lead back down to 15 points, but that’s where it would stay as the Saints punched their ticket to the semifinals.
“We needed that quick start, which we got,” Rundquist said after the game. “If we would have gotten that start (in the third) like we did that first quarter, it would have been a different ballgame. That’s basketball. It’s a very enjoyable sport, but it can also be very frustrating.”
Sartorius led the team in scoring with 19 points on 7-17 from the field, 1-5 from the three-point line and 4-4 from the charity stripe.
In the postgame press conference, Sartorius talked about the differences between Tuesday’s game and the Panthers’ game at Wells Fargo against Harlan in the regular season.
“I think playing earlier in the year helped us but it definitely felt a little different because the atmosphere is different,” Sartorius said. “There is a lot more at stake, playing in the state tournament. You come in with a little nerves but you have to shake them off…We just didn’t step up and hit our shots.”
O’Connor had the only double-double in the ballgame for either team, scoring 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. After the game, he said his comfort level had improved since the Panthers’ loss to Xavier on the road that opened the season.
“I definitely felt more comfortable,” O’Connor said. “That’s what a season does playing with these guys. The confidence builds.”
Magnani scored eight points in the loss. Kohorst had six points and led the team with two assists, and Rhett Zeglen scored one point.
Max Techau led Xavier with 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Mims had 17 points and two steals and Joens finished with 10 points to give the Saints three scorers in the double digits.
Schulte scored five points for the Saints. Nolan Butkhowski had four points and a game-leading seven assists, and Lux finished with three points.
Xavier shot 56.1 percent in the game compared to 37.2 percent for Mt. Pleasant.
The Panthers shot just 1-10 from three-point land and finished the game with just three assists.
Mt. Pleasant will lose O’Connor to graduation, as well as fellow senior Brock Wilson, who has stuck with the team as a manger despite having to miss the last two years with injury.
After the postgame press conference, Rundquist spoke about what O’Connor has given to the Panther team since coming into the school district this year.
“He was a huge impact, especially as we got into the tournament,” Rundquist said. “He was trying to find his game early on, and it took some time, but I think you can see that he was pretty dominant in the second half of the season.”
The Panthers will return all but O’Connor and Wilson next season including eight players who will be entering their senior year. One of those players, Magnani, said the team is ready to work to get back to The Well next season.
“A lot of us play summer ball, so I’m pretty sure it should be a quick turnaround for most of us,” Magnani said. “(We’ll) probably just take tonight, get up tomorrow, go back to school and heal from there.”