Effingham Daily News
Neoga head coach Bob Lockart talked to his team about rewarding itself for its wire-to-wire effort, while holding on to a four-point lead with 2:15 left against St. Elmo/Brownstown.
In the next 30 seconds, the Indians ripped away any hope the Eagles had of continuing their comeback and finished off a 53-45 win in the National Trail Conference tournament on Tuesday.
“We led that game from start to finish, for the most part, and it would’ve been a shame (to lose it), but that’s why you play 32 minutes,” Lockart said.
It started when Luke Baker made the Indians’ first free throw in at least two minutes, to lead 45-40. He missed the second and Corey Kersey grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup.
Jake Baker, who scored a game-high 22 points, stole the ensuing inbounds pass and made two free throws to give the Indians a nine-point lead.
Kersey came up with another Neoga steal on the Eagles next possession and, after passing it to Jake Baker, the Eagles’ Jacob Behrends fouled out of the game.
Jake Baker made another pair of free throws, transforming a slim, four-point lead into 11 points in a rapid 37 seconds, with 1:38 left in the game.
“We played like we practiced last night,” Eagles head coach Greg Feezel said. “I kind of felt like we were behind the eight ball before we even started.”
The Indians were on the better end of a late-game situation, which Lockart said hasn’t been the case.
However, Neoga finished quarters strong on Tuesday. The Indians ended the second quarter on a 4-0 run, taking a six-point lead at halftime. They finished the third quarter on a 5-0 run to take an 11-point lead.
But the Eagles didn’t go away. Levi Maxey made a rare 3-pointer to start the fourth, followed immediately by a Malachi Maxey 3-pointer to shrink the lead to five points.
Lockart immediately called a timeout and Neoga responded well, holding off the Eagles for the final seven minutes of the game.
Neoga’s defense continued to limit the Eagles top players, Levi Maxey and Behrends. In a man-to-man defense, Wyatt Krikie guarded Maxey and Jake Baker faced Behrends.
Krikie limited Maxey to five points, which wasn’t the way the two players’ battle ended the first time around. Lockart said Maxey “handed it to us” in the Indians early season loss to the Eagles.
“We hadn’t made a decision who was going to guard (Maxey and Behrends) and Wyatt said he wanted (Maxey),” Lockart said. “That’s what a senior should do.”
The Eagles’ duo neared 1,000-point milestones coming into the game; in fact, Maxey needed only nine points to surpass the mark.
Feezel said Krikie’s tough defense caused Maxey to struggle, but the Eagles coach wasn’t hesitant to admit the milestone was a distraction.
“When kids know something and know a milestone is coming, it gets in their heads,” Feezel said. “You’ve got to remember that it will be there and it will come, but you still have to win ball games.”
Behrends fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, but picked up his fourth foul in the third and was forced into playing offense and subbing out on defense for much of the final quarter.
Without his two top players performing at their peak, Feezel said nobody else stepped up to lead the team.
“All it took was to score another 10 or 11 points, I don’t care who it was, and we would’ve won,” Feezel said. “The biggest and broadest picture is that this team lost. This team lost.”
Neoga advances into the winners bracket to play top-seeded St. Anthony on Thursday, while St. Elmo/Brownstown will play Windsor on Thurday, in the consolation bracket.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SE/B 13 10 8 14 45
Neoga 20 9 13 11 53
SE/B: M. Maxey 12, L. Maxey 5, Behrends 14, Smithson 2, Feezel 12
Neoga: L. Baker 5, C. Kersey 4, Krikie 10, Aleshire 4, J. Baker 22, Atwell 8