MIDDLETOWN — Lakota East High School’s performance Sunday night was good enough to conquer a lot of opponents.
Just not the No. 1 boys basketball team in the state.
The Thunderhawks continue to play well in the face of adversity, but couldn’t hold a seven-point lead in the second half and lost to top-ranked Moeller 61-53 in the inaugural Midwest King Classic at Middletown’s Wade E. Miller Arena.
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“I’m not a big moral victory guy. But at the same time, with everything that these guys have been through this year, at no time did they look at each other and say, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ ” said East coach Clint Adkins, who is now down three impact players (Kyrell Metts, Jared McCorkle, Alex Mangold) due to injuries and a transfer rule. “They just step up and keep fighting. Because of that, I’m super proud of these guys.”
Bash Wieland was strong once again with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting for the Thunderhawks (10-4). Kaden Fuhrmann tossed in 11 points, Will Johnston had nine and Grant Spicer added seven before fouling out with 4:31 remaining.
East shot 58.3 percent from the floor, usually a pretty good indicator of a victory. But the Crusaders shot 64.1 percent, doubled the Thunderhawks on the boards and tallied 24 points off turnovers.
“We can’t turn the ball over against these guys because they’re better in transition than anybody we’ll play all year,” Adkins said. “That was the difference in the game. When we didn’t turn it over, we executed really well and got the shots we wanted to get. I thought our guys competed their tails off. They just made some superior plays to us tonight.”
The Crusaders (13-0) dialed up the defensive heat and pushed the pace in the second half, and East responded with nine of its 15 turnovers. Moeller erased a 41-38 deficit with an eight-point burst in a 73-second span late in the third quarter, aided by a pair of slams from Miles McBride.
Alec Pfriem poured in 25 points for Moeller, the defending Division I state champion, while McBride had 15 and Will McCracken added 10. The Crusaders’ winning streak stands at 33.
“You’ve got to win basketball games a lot of different ways,” Moeller coach Carl Kremer said. “We really haven’t been in a situation this year where we’ve been behind like we were tonight. We had to get a little more aggressive defensively. They were doing such a good job of having long possessions. It felt like they had a bunch of one-minute possessions that ended with a made shot.
“We felt they got the tempo of the game where they wanted. At halftime, we said, ‘We’ve got to do some things to get it a little more crazy.’ The 1-3-1 we played I thought really helped change the flow of the game. We were afraid we were going to have a 35-possession game. We had to do our best to get the pace better.”
The Crusaders were just 1-of-5 from 3-point range, but that didn’t mean much to a team that kept finding ways to get to the rim. Pfriem was 11-of-12 from the field. McCracken was 5-of-5.
“We have to make it a five-on-five game against those guys,” said Adkins, pointing out that Moeller’s length is very difficult to deal with. “When they’re 2-on-1 and 3-on-2, we don’t have a chance. Unfortunately, they had too many opportunities where they had numbers tonight.”
Wieland and Pfriem were part of an interesting subplot in the Greater Miami Conference/Greater Catholic League South Division clash.
The 6-foot-4 seniors will be teammates next season at Bellarmine University, which currently has the top-ranked NCAA Division II team in the country. They had a brief conversation on the floor at the end of the game.
“He said, ‘Good game,’ and we were just smiling,” Pfriem said. “I was just like, ‘All right, I’ll see you next year. We’ll have some fun next year.’ I’d never even seen him play before this game. He’s a pretty good player. I like his game.”
“I’m looking forward to playing with him next year,” Wieland said. “He played a great game. I hate to say this, but he did back-cut me about four or five times, so I’ve got to work on that going forward.”
Pfriem had at least four points in every period and added three steals for the Crusaders. McBride collected six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
“Moeller’s a really good team. Very talented. Five scholarship guys,” Wieland said. “We tried to come out and execute our motion and control the tempo. They have guys that can run out and get steals, and we knew that coming in. The turnovers really cost us.”
Kremer wasn’t thrilled with his squad’s play in the last four minutes. He said the Crusaders still have a lot of things to work on, even as many observers see them as heavy favorites to repeat as state champions.
“This team’s got some challenges,” Kremer said. “Really, our early success has become a challenge for us. We’re going to get everyone’s best shot. They’re going to be extremely patient against us. They’re going to manage the game. So we’ve got to deal with that and learn how to play with it.”
“That’s one of the fun parts about being at Moeller,” Pfriem said of being the hunted. “Our goal is never to keep the streak going or anything like that. It’s just to get better every day and see where we can go from there.”
Both teams are back in action Friday, Moeller at St. Xavier and East at home against Princeton.
Wieland said the GMC-leading Thunderhawks are determined to keep playing at a high level with a next-man-up mentality.
“We’ve got guys that just want it,” Wieland said. “Grant Spicer is one of the best people I’ve ever played with, just how he competes on the floor. We’re not going to use any excuses. We’re going to come out and compete as hard as we can every single game. That’s what we’ve been taught.”
Lakota East 17-10-17-9—53
LAKOTA EAST (10-4): Nick Holtman 1 0 2; Kaden Fuhrmann 4 0 11; Bash Wieland 9 1 22; Will Johnston 3 1 9; Grant Spicer 3 1 7; Nate Johnson 1 0 2. Totals: 21-3-53
MOELLER (13-0): Alec Pfriem 11 2 25; Miles McBride 6 3 15; Max Land 1 3 5; Logan Duncomb 1 2 4; Will McCracken 5 0 10; Alex Williams 1 0 2. Totals: 25-10-61
3-pointers: L 8 (Wieland 3, Fuhrmann 3, Johnston 2), M 1 (Pfriem)