Boys season ended by Cavaliers

Jason Ferguson

On Feb. 8, the Custer High School boys basketball team gave the No. 2 ranked St. Thomas More Cavaliers all they wanted and then some, taking a late lead and keeping the score close for about 28 of the 32 minutes of the game in a 67-50 loss.
Last Friday in the second round of Region 8A play, however, was more of a standing on the tracks when the train came through scenario.
The Cavaliers looked every bit the part of a state championship contender as they hit 11 three-pointers, harassed the Wildcats into 25 turnovers and dominated in every aspect of the game in a 66-27 victory in a game that was pretty much over at halftime.
“They’re at home, they’re fired up, they’re an experienced ball club and they shot really well,” Custer head coach Paul Kelley said of St. Thomas More. “They got on a roll, then everything starts going in and it’s very difficult to play in that situation.”
The Wildcats started turning the ball over early, as three consecutive turnovers at the beginning of the first quarter led to an 8-1 deficit following a Cade Kandolin three-pointer. Kandolin was the biggest part of the Cavalier barrage, hitting five of six attempts from the behind the arc and scoring 23 points.
“He has dramatically improved his outside shooting,” Kelley said of Kandolin. “They hit some shots and it just kept going in.”
Gage Tennyson hit a pair of free throws to bring Custer to within three at 8-5, but that was followed by two more Cavalier three-pointers that gave More a 14-5 lead.
Sawyer Schramm scored and was fouled at the 2:52 mark of the first quarter, and made the free throw to cut More’s lead to 14-8. From there, however, the Cavaliers went on a 10-0 run and led 24-8 at the end of the first quarter.
The Wildcats tried to keep it close in the second quarter but soon found themselves down by 22, and trailed by that amount at halftime after a Kandolin steal and layup.
As bad as the first half was the second half started even worse, as the Wildcats committed four consecutive turnovers while the Cavaliers kept scoring, and Custer was down 45-14 with 6:15 left in the third quarter, which began a running clock via mercy rule.
“They basically negated our inside game and put so much pressure on us the length of the court,” Kelley said. “It made it extremely tough for us to get into our offense. Our strength is inside. We just couldn’t get it done there.”
Eventually the Wildcats fell behind by 40 at 54-14 as the Wildcats struggled frequently to get the ball over half court due to the unrelenting Cavalier press.
By the end of the third quarter, down 61-23, the Wildcats had waived the white flag and began to put in backups to finish out the game.
“You know going against St. Thomas More the defensive pressure and intensity they are going to bring at you. It was kind of overwhelming for our young kids,” Kelley said. “We just didn’t have an answer for it.”
In Custer’s Feb. 8 loss more was without top scorer Caleb Hollenbeck, but Hollenbeck didn’t make a huge difference in Friday’s game as the Wildcats spent the game face guarding him  with various players, holding him to 14 points, although the same technique did not work as well on Kandolin.
Tennyson scored 13 points to lead the Wildcats. No other Custer player scored more than six points and the Wildcats didn’t hit a three-pointer for the first time all season.
“Give credit to St. Thomas More. They rattled us. They punched us in the mouth and we didn’t answer,” Kelley said.
On March 1 the Wildcats were in Hot Springs for the first round of Region 8A play, and came away with a 44-34 win in the rubber match between the two games. Both teams had won a matchup on their home courts during the course of the season.
It wasn’t a game that will show up on offensive highlight reels anytime soon, as both teams struggled on offense for the majority of the game. The Bison had no answer for Tennyson, however, as the senior dominated inside to the tune of 21 points, playing around foul trouble to provide most of the Wildcat offense, particularly when it was needed most.
“Gage showed his athleticism against Hot Springs,” Kelley said. “They didn’t have an answer for him until he ran out of gas a little bit.”
The Wildcats only had four points with three minutes left in the first quarter, and took the lead for the first time with a minute remaining in the quarter on a Tennyson drive for a basket that was preceeded by a Virtue steal, basket on which he was fouled and free throw that tied the score at 7-7.
Custer began to build on its lead in the second quarter with the help of a Rhett Lowe three-pointer, a short Tennyson jumper and a pair of Virtue free throws.
The Wildcats went up double digits for the first time at 20-9 with around three minutes left in the half. The Bison scored the next five points in the game, but Tennyson stopped the Bison run with another basket and Custer took a 22-14 lead into the half.
The ’Cats took a 26-14 lead early in the third quarter after another Tennyson basket and continued to maintain a double-digit lead after a Tennyson basket off a lob and a Lowe three-pointer. However, the Wildcats spent the rest of the third quarter and the early part of the fourth quarter turning the ball over, and the Bison cut the Wildcat lead to six at 34-28 after a Braden Grill baseline jumper.
By this point Tennyson had four fouls and took a seat on the bench for a few minutes but he checked back in with just over four minutes left and hit a turn-around jumper to put Custer up 37-30.
“We rested Gage and (Hot Springs) couldn’t get anything going,” Kelley said. “That was good for us because we got Gage some needed rest.”
Lowe put the game away for all intents and purposes moments later when he hit a corner three-pointer that hit the rim, bounced straight up and fell through to give the Wildcats a 41-30 lead.
“Down the stretch he hit two big threes,” Kelley said. “He helped us maintain the lead at times we desperately needed it.”
Virtue added 10 points in the win, while Carter Boyster pulled down 10 rebounds. The ’Cats held Hot Springs to 19 percent shooting from the floor in the game.
“They had no idea we would play man (defense) against them. I think that took them completely by surprise and out of the game,” Kelley said. “I thought our kids did a good job with it even though that’s not our primary defense. We knew our length (on the perimeter) would be good for contesting threes.”
Custer closes its season with a record of 11-11, which can be considered quite a feat when this time last year Kelley had no idea who would play guard for his impossibly young team and privately wondered if the team would lose all of, if not most of, its first 10 games.
There were many times this season when the Wildcats had four freshmen on the floor, but ended up winning only two games less and advancing one game short of where last year’s senior-laden Wildcat team ended its season.
“I was proud of what the kids accomplished this year,” Kelley said. “It was disappointing to go out the way we did. We didn’t play well at all. We can’t let that diminish the success our kids had. It was a fun year.”
The team will graduate Tennyson, Schramm, Brody Storm and Mikael Grace, all of whom Kelley said contributed in some fashion, despite not being vocal leaders.
“They came every single day. It would be easy to throw in the towel and say ‘let’s get this over with.’ All our seniors kept fighting and working hard,” Kelley said. “They rose to the challenge and did what they needed to help these kids be successful.”
Replacing Tennyson will arguably be the biggest challenge (“It’s going to be a long time, and maybe never, before we have an athlete like Gage Tennyson again,” Kelley said) but the Wildcats return leading scorer Virtue, who will be a sophomore, along with the likes of fellow freshmen Lowe, Lehman, Boyster and others who were thrown into the varsity fire when kids their age are usually playing freshman or junior varsity ball.
“We are excited about the potential of the next couple of years, but there is a lot of work to be done,” Kelley said. “The ceiling for the group is there. Are they willing to put the time and energy into getting there? I do think we have those kids who want success.”
Custer    8    6    9    4    —27
STM    24    12    25    5    —66
Custer—Sawyer Schramm 1-3 1-1 3, Kade Lehman 0-3 1-4 1, Rhett Lowe 0-3 0-1 0, Drew Lehman 0-1 0-0 0, Kyle Virtue 2-5 2-4 6, Gage Tennyson 5-10 3-5 13, Mikael Grace 1-1 0-0 2, Carter Boyster 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 10-27 7-15 27.
St. Thomas More—Ethan Burnett 1-5 0-0 2, Caleb Hollenbeck 6-9 1-1 14, Will Green 4-7 0-0 12, Cade Kandolin 9-12 0-1 23, Ian Clewley 3-5 0-0 6, Matthew Larson 1-1 0-0 2, Peyton Young 1-2 0-0 3, Holden Griswold 0-1 0-0 0, Lee Neugebauer 1-6 0-0 2, Turner Thompson 0-3 0-0 0.
Three-point goals: STM 11 (Kandolin 5, Green 4, Hollenbeck, Young). Rebounding: Custer 20, STM 25. Steals: Custer 5, STM 14. Assists: 17, Custer 3.  Turnovers: Custer 25, STM 7. Total fouls: Custer 8, STM 14. Fouled out: none.
Custer    9    13    11    11    —44
HS    7    7    12    8    —34
Custer—Sawyer Schramm 0-4 1-2 1, Kade Lehman 0-2 0-0 0, Rhett Lowe 3-9 0-0 9, Kyle Virtue 2-10 6-12 10, Gage Tennyson 10-16 1-1 21, Mikael Grace 0-1 0-0 0, Carter Boyster 0-4 3-4 3. Totals: 15-46 11-19 44.
Hot Springs—Tyler Remington 0-5 0-0 0, Camron Maciejewski 1-11 0-0 2, Braden Grill 7-20 4-6 18, Matt Close 1-10 2-2 5, Landon Iverson 0-5 2-4 2, Preston Iverson 3-12 0-0 7.
Three-point goals: Custer 3 (Lowe 3), HS 2 (Close, P. Iverson). Rebounding: Custer 37 (Boyster 10), HS 33 (Grill 15). Steals: Custer 8, HS 8. Assists: Custer 11, HS 5. Turnovers: Custer 17, HS 16. Total fouls: Custer 12, HS 14. Fouled out: Maciejewski.

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