Clamping down defensively over the final three quarters, the St. Francis Borgia Regional boys basketball Knights claimed the program’s 34th district title Friday in Hannibal.
Borgia (16-11) ousted the top-seeded Hannibal Pirates (18-5), 50-39.
“Without a doubt, it was a hard-fought game,” Borgia Head Coach Dave Neier said. “They have a tremendous team and offensively they present a lot of problems. Start with Dezi Jones, who scored over 2,000 points in his career. He really came after us at the beginning. It took a little while for our guys to figure out exactly how to play them. After we figured it out, I think we did a pretty good job on them. After the first quarter, I think we held them to 18 points as a team. It really was a team effort to slow Jones and their team down. They have a great team.”
Borgia senior Will Elbert was happy to help his team to the title.
“It feels pretty good,” Elbert said. “It’s like another rush.”
In a packed Korf Gymnasium, the Knights trailed for most of the first half. Hannibal scored over half of its points in the opening quarter to lead 21-15 through eight minutes.
Of that total, senior Dezi Jones accounted for 14 of Hannibal’s points.
Scoring got much tougher for the Pirates in the second quarter. Borgia limited Hannibal to just six additional points and pulled back to within two, 27-25.
“They have some great offensive rebounders,” Neier said. “Our guys did a great job on the boards. We also got some rebounds and putbacks between our two big guys, Will Elbert and Brendan Smith. Those were some big baskets. That kept us in the game in the first half.”
Smith, a senior, made a key defensive stop, taking a charge from Jones with 2.7 seconds to play.
“It definitely was a fun environment with the big crowd,” Elbert said. “They can hold their own inside and outside. Both teams were very strong. It was a good game all around.”
From there, Borgia picked up the offense in the third quarter. Junior Alex Brinkmann tied it with 7:01 to go in the quarter and junior Trent Strubberg scored off of a Hannibal turnover to give the Knights the lead.
“In the second half, I just think we did a better job with the things we were supposed to do,” Neier said. “We guarded Jones a little better and made it a little harder for them. Also, we made some big baskets. We put some pressure on and were able to get the ball to the basket and get a little bit of a lead. They started to hurry on offense and got concerned about the clock. We were able to hit some free throws at the end and come out with the win.”
Brinkmann said becoming more patient also helped.
“I think we just tried to be a little more patient on offense,” Brinkmann said. “We were rushing it a little bit. Then we started kicking it in transition and that’s how I got my buckets.”
Borgia made another stop with Brinkmann diving out of bounds to save the ball on the defensive end. Pulling himself up from in front of the overflow Hannibal student fans and cheerleaders, Brinkmann hustled down to the other end and took a pass for the layup to finish the play.
“That was fun,” Brinkmann said. “I think I scared a couple of cheerleaders when I dove. I started running and got the ball and saw I was wide open.”
Neier said defense was a key to the turnaround.
“I think in the second half we really buckled down and played some good defense,” Neier said. “Coach (Adam) Fischer did a great job with our offense where we were able to get the ball to good spots and we were able to get some big shots.”
Brinkmann said hard work off the court also played a role.
“I think our conditioning throughout the year helped us,” Brinkmann said. “We were able to keep our legs and we were able to keep running. I think they got a little tired.”
Hannibal was able to stay close, but Borgia held the lead through the rest of the quarter and led 37-33 going to the fourth quarter.
Borgia overcame plenty of adversity. Hannibal was in the bonus by the end of the quarter as seven of the eight fouls in the quarter were whistled on the Knights. Several players were in foul trouble, including sophomore Max Meyers, who had four fouls at the 2:55 mark of the third quarter.
The trend continued in the fourth quarter, although Hannibal couldn’t take advantage. The Pirates were able to close to within two points, 40-38, with 4:20 to play. However, Borgia closed out the game.
Hannibal went 2-7 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and was 10-18 for the game. Meanwhile, the Knights were 9-15 from the stripe and hit eight of 11 chances in the fourth quarter.
Brinkmann led the Knights with 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half.
“Alex really had some big baskets driving to the basket,” Neier said.
Strubberg also reached double figures with 10 points.
Borgia’s 6-8 players, Smith and Elbert, scored nine and seven points, respectively, and played a massive role in controlling the boards.
Junior Cole Weber and Meyers each scored three points.
Borgia knocked down three three-point baskets for the game.
“With our big guys posting up inside, we were still able to hit a couple of threes to keep them honest,” Neier said. “We didn’t score as many points as we would normally score and that’s due to what they did on their defensive end. They’re very aggressive and play tenacious defense. They’re a well-coached team and I give them all the credit in the world.”
A lot of the success was because of Borgia’s defensive efforts. Jones scored 14 points in the first quarter, but was held to just eight for the rest of the game to end with 22. He was scoreless in the second quarter.
“Coach Neier thought of a perfect defensive scheme for him,” Brinkmann said. “We followed it as well as we could. We were able to make some good adjustments in the second half.”
Additionally, Hannibal was held to just one three-point basket after the opening quarter.
“We knew we had to stop Jones from the drive mainly and take him out of the game since he had 14 in the first quarter,” Elbert said. “We had to change up the defense a little bit.”
Junior Adreke Brumbaugh was next with nine points.
Junior Preston Bennett and senior Gabe Worthington each scored three points.
Senior Will Whitaker added two points.
Hannibal knocked down four three-point baskets, three in the first quarter.
“It was a great ballgame and a great atmosphere,” Neier said. “You wish every game could be like this where the place was packed. It was so loud that the players hardly could hear you on the court. It was so much fun. Obviously it was more fun when you win a game like this. Either way, it was a game you will remember for a long time.”