PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Noennig, Crusaders grind out big conference win

MAYER – It was as bad of a start for the Mayer Lutheran boys basketball team could have had. A slow start and sluggish play didn’t stop them though from taking care of business.

The Crusaders put the sluggish start behind them, and picked up an important 46-44 victory over SW Christian Tuesday night in a MN River Conference matchup.

The Crusaders came out sluggish from the start, and in fact, even before the game. SW Christian was issued a technical foul during warmups, and before the game even started, Mayer Lutheran missed two free throws. Things didn’t get any better, as the Crusaders allowed two wide-open 3-pointers for the Stars, giving them an early lead. Just 66 seconds into the game, Mayer Lutheran coach Pat Buchanan sat his starting five to send a message.

“The message was, we need to focus,” Buchanan said. “We didn’t have our focus. I told them what defense we were in, and I don’t know what they were doing out there. I had to take them out. That’s just understanding that you have to be focused. We’ve been struggling with jump starts in games. That was one where we didn’t get the first jump because the first five weren’t ready. Being prepared for a game starts two hours before, or a night before the game. We’ve just got to get better at that.”

While the starting five for Mayer Lutheran were learning a lesson, Eli Johnson gave the Crusaders a much-needed spark off the bench. He knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to get Mayer Lutheran going when they needed it most. Johnson, along with the other four who came in for the starters, continued to give the Crusaders depth, which is something Buchanan hopes continues.

“That’s what we’ve been working on,” Buchanan said. “We’re trying to get better strength in our numbers. The bench guys came prepared and were ready to go. That’s what we’ve been working all year for. We’re trying to put it all together right now.”

The lesson for the starting five worked, as their next rotation paid dividends. Senior Baden Noennig returned and scored five quick points to tie the game at 11.

“We started off slow,” Noennig said. “It took us a little bit to get into it, but we got into the flow of things and started hitting shots. We just fell into that groove. We found that intensity we needed.”

With the slow start behind them, the Crusaders got back to their style. Mayer Lutheran held the Stars scoreless for more than six minutes, and used a 16-3 run to take a 27-14 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half. In that run, Jacob Pallas and Noennig connected on a lob pass for another big dunk by Noennig against the Stars to get the crowd into it.

“When we get out and run and get some easy transition buckets,” Buchanan said. “That’s big for us. “When we get out and go, good things happen. It looks good out there. If we can get stops, we can get out and run with anybody.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, Jan. 25 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

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