Stew-Stras rode a strong first half effort and advanced at the National Trail Conference tournament with a 47-36 win over South Central Monday night.
The Comets jumped out all over the Cougars, drilling three straight 3-pointers to open the game and running out to a 12-2 lead in the game’s first four minutes.
That summed up Stew-Stras’ effort all night, as they’d take a big lead and then South Central would claw back, but never got close enough to put any real pressure on the Comets.
“We put ourselves in a hole. our turnovers, especially early, were bordering on ridiculous,” said South Central coach Rick Simmons. “But second half, we played harder, continued to play, gave ourselves a chance.”
After the 12-2 lead, South Central quickly cut the score to 12-8 with 2:40 left, but wouldn’t score for just less than eight minutes, as Stew-Stras ran the lead out to 24-8 before a Chase Riley layup with 3:27 left.
Stew-Stras would keep the pressure on, taking a 30-15 lead to the half after the offense found its rhythm early with an outside-in attack.
“We shot real well, and then we forgot about the rest of the game, and then we got back to driving and that opened everything up,” said Stew-Stras coach Shane Smith.
The Comets would push the lead to 18 in the first few minutes of the second half up 35-17, but Riley, Brett Harmeier, Evan Langley and Tyler Ross spearheaded an 11-0 run to cut the lead to just seven points.
Harmeier topped South Central with 11 points on the night, and Simmons lauded his effort.
“He’s getting there, he has to work so hard because he’s doing so much,” Simmons said. “He’s trying to figure out how to fit himself in with everyone else.”
But Stew-Stras was too much for South Central from there, pushing the lead back to 15 midway through the fourth and cruising.
“We switched defenses probably a little too much in the third quarter and that probably took some of our intensity away,” Smith said.
The Comet offense was paced by Brandon Helmuth, who led all scorers with 23 points and was the only Comet in double digits. Mark Jones scored eight points and Austin Blythe had six.
Helmuth returned after missing Friday’s game with St. Anthony, and played with a low ankle sprain on his right ankle despite not being at his best.
“He’s nowhere close to 100 percent, he’s gutting it out and we needed him tonight,” Smith said. “When you’re missing 30, 40 percent of your offense, it’s hard to win.”
South Central (0-18) falls to the seventh-place game Saturday, where the Cougars will face Cowden-Herrick, whom they lost to earlier this year in the St. Elmo Holiday Tournament.
Stew-Stras (6-11), the tournament’s seven seed, advances to the quarterfinals, where they’ll face the second-seeded Altamont Indians on their own home floor. Smith said both teams know what to expect despite not having faced off yet this season.
“We’re going to come up with a few wrinkles to throw at them,” he said. “It’s going to be who can establish their style of play. Both coaches know what we want to do.”
That game begins at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday night.
South Central 8 7 13 8 36
Stew-Stras 12 18 8 9 47
South Central: Harmeier 11, Langley 6, OLeary 5, Riley 5, Ross 5, Powless 4
Stew-Stras: Jones 8, A. Blythe 6, Helmuth 23, Bugger 3, Kessler 2, Fry 5