St. Anthony coach Mark Tovey called Friday's game against Stewardson-Strasburg "a sign" of where his team was.
The Bulldogs measured up and gave their coach a positive sign heading into next week's NTC tournament, beating the conference-leading Comets 60-45 Friday night.
They controlled the game from start to finish, taking the lead with 4:10 left in the first quarter and never looking back.
Tovey said the team had been having good practices, and it showed Friday at the Enlow Center.
"I would have been very disappointed had we not come out and played well," Tovey said. "I thought we played well the whole game. "
Stew-Stras (10-7) struggled offensively throughout, as the Bulldogs stifled Justin Fulk inside with a combination of defenders led by Jason Vogel.
The defense provided opportunities for the other Comets, but coach Shane Smith said his team didn't take advantage of the other opening on the court.
"They took a lot of our strengths and turned them against us," Smith said. "There were some openings we just weren't seeing. It's not just a one-player game. Most of the game we were out of sync on offense, and most of that credit goes to them."
A first-quarter run pushed St. Anthony (4-13) out in front, and the Bulldogs would lead by as many as 11 midway through the second quarter.
Leading scorer Jacob Schuette committed his third foul with 4:31 left in the second. St. Anthony has struggled to find scoring outside of Schuette and John Goeckner all season.
But the Bulldogs didn't miss a beat, extending their lead to 42-26 in the 12.5 minutes Schuette sat on the bench until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
"That's the thing we're going to have to do, be a balanced team," Tovey said. "We had a lot more balanced scoring."
He came back in in the fourth, and got going like he'd been in the game the whole time, finishing with a game-high 19 points.
St. Anthony pushed its lead to 51-30 with 4:39 remaining in the game for their biggest lead of the game.
Stew-Stras kept fighting, cutting the lead to 12 points in the final minute before ultimately running out of time.
It's the Comets' first conference loss, and heading into the NTC tournament, it might help their chances to make a run at the title.
"Every experience we have is not a wasted experience, even a loss," Smith said. "Hopefully, we respond to the things they showed us we need to work on."
Goeckner and Neil Williams each had 10 points for St. Anthony, while Vogel added nine of his own.
Jason Becker topped Stew-Stras with 13 points. Fulk added 12 points, and Brandon Helmuth had 10 points.
St. Anthony begins its NTC tournament Monday, when they take on Windsor at about 8 p.m. at Altamont High School.
"I thought we had four excellent practices and a little bit of time to start improving," Tovey said. "We've got a chance to be a pretty good basketball team."
Stew-Stras, the three-seed in the NTC, doesn't tip off until Wednesday, where they await the winner of the St. Anthony/Windsor game.
St. Anthony 60, Stew-Stras 45
Stew-Stras 6 7 13 19 - 45
St. Anthony 13 13 16 18 - 60
Stew-Stras - Helmuth 10, Helton 1, Becker 13, Fry 7, Fulk 12, Roley 2
St. Anthony - Williams 10, Z. Gardewine 1, Schuette 19, Schultz 2, A. Gardewine 5, Hoelscher 4, Goeckner 10, Vogel 9