For the Daily News
ST. ELMO —
Altamont may be the No. 2 seed at the 53rd Annual St. Elmo Holiday Tournament. But if the Indians performance early on this season - including Wednesday's lopsided 61-31 quarterfinal win over Ramsey - is any indication, coach John Niebrugge s Indians have to be considered the favorite to claim a record 12th title.
The Indians (5-0) bounced back from a slow start to post their fifth-straight win by at least 20 points to start the year, a daunting figure for any of its upcoming opponents to digest.
Then again, if South Central gets another performance like it did from Fischer Tharp (32 points, 10 rebounds) Wednesday in its 52-48 win against Cowden-Herrick, the Cougars might just be able to spoil Altamont s championship plans.
Altamont and South Central (2-3) will meet Friday at 7:45 p.m. in the second semifinal of the tournament. The winner will take on the victor of today s 7:45 p.m. matchup between top-seeded St. Elmo (4-2) and fourth-seeded Beecher City (2-3).
The Indians trailed Ramsey (1-8) by a point, 15-14, early in the second quarter, but Altamont outscored the Rams 47-17 the rest of the way by picking up its intensity on both ends of the court.
"We pride ourselves in conditioning," coach Niebrugge said. "We think we re one of the best conditioned teams in the state, so we ll take that first punch and after that second punch we ll see who's got more stamina."
Garrett Ziegler led Altamont with 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including one of his four 3-pointers to put the Indians up for good at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter. The trifecta started a 12-0 Altamont run, as the Indians took a 26-17 lead into halftime.
Altamont came out of the locker room with more aggressive play on both ends, and subsequently quickly opened up a double digit lead in the third quarter and never looked back. We just said, We just gotta get out and run, Niebrugge said of his team's halftime discussion. We didn't really make any adjustments
I didn't have any great coaching moves
I just said, We gotta do what we re supposed to do. Jon Kuhns added 12 points and six rebounds for the Indians, and Ryan Mayhaus had a good floor game, finishing with five points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. The Indians have won by an average margin of 26 ppg so far this year, including a 22-point win against South Central. We re still looking for some leaders to step up when stuff goes bad, said Niebrugge of his team s performance so far in his first year as a varsity head coach. But, yeah, I m real happy. The kids are buying into (his system). They know what it takes to win. Is it gonna be sloppy? Well, yeah, because they re learning all new philosophies, so hopefuly we ll clean things up a little bit. Niebrugge speaks of his team s rather hectic style, both offensively and defensively, something South Central coach Rick Simmons experienced first hand last week. At least we know what we re getting into, said Simmons of his team's semifinal showdown with the Indians. I had seen them play Windsor, but you come back and try to tell the kids how aggresively they play and how hard they work defensively, and it doesn't sink in until they re in the middle of it. The fact that the Cougars have seen the Indians before is just one reason Simmons is optimistic heading into Friday s semifinal.After watching Cowden-Herrick trim an eight-point fourth quarter deficit to just one point, the Cougars found a way to win Wednesday s quarterfinal. I was glad we made some free throws down the stretch, and I m glad it was a close game, Simmons said. A lot of times in the past, we d get in close games and we'd find a way to lose. It s one of those that you build some confidence. The Hornets (6-2) were basically daring South Central to heave up 3-pointers by employing a triangle-and-two defense, but the Cougars resisted the urge by being patient and waiting for opportunities to drive to the basket to present themselves.Rudy Hablewitz s three-point play to cap off a minute-and-a-half possession gave South Central a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and Tharp scored on a spin move after nearly being stripped of the ball, capitalizing on a Cowden-Herrick turnover on South Central s next possession.Another Hablewitz basket gave the Cougars an eight-point lead with 3 ½ minutes to go, but the Hornets scored seven-straight points the final two buckets off of South Central turnovers to cut the Cougars lead to 46-45 with just under two minutes remaining.A pair of Hablewitz free throws at the 1:36 mark stabilized South Central s situation, however, and a Tharp bucket on a nice Austin Schwarm pass put the Cougars back up by five.Luke Moore who was saddled by foul trouble in the first half came back with a 3-pointer to cut the Cougars lead to just two with 35 seconds left, but it proved to be Cowden-Herrick s last gasp, as the Hornets missed their final four shots and South Central made 2 of 4 free throws. Hablewitz finished strong, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final quarter. He also stepped up defensively, despite picking up his third foul in the third quarter. Rudy got upset about the foul call, and when Rudy gets upset, his focus gets better, Simmons said. That s kind of what happened. Rudy s the kind of player that can quietly get his 15-20 points, because everything s focused on Fischer. He really stepped up (offensively) in the fourth quarter, and he did defensively as well. Tharp was outstanding all night, hitting 15 of 22 from the field, despite being the focus of Cowden-Herrick s defense and picking up his third foul late in the first half. His 32 points came a little more than a week after he flirted with South Central s single-game scoring record in a win against Odin. And he did it in his typical unassuming fashion. When he scored the 41 the other night, I ll be honest with you I had no clue he had that many points, Simmons said. He just does it in the flow of the game, and it s not like he s going one-on-one in every situation. Seth Barnes stepped up with 15 points to help out when Moore was on the bench with foul trouble. Moore finished with eight of his 11 points in the second half. He also had eight rebounds.The tournament will resume today at 6:15 p.m. when fifth-seeded Brownstown (5-3) takes on eighth-seeded Mulberry Grove (1-8) in a consolation semifinal. Top seeded and defending champion St. Elmo (4-2) will then take on No. 4 seed Beecher City (2-3) in a battle of Eagles.