Kapaun Mount Carmel navigated its way to the championship game of the Bluestem Classic without many positive feelings about its third-quarter performances in victories over Trinity Academy and Circle.
But in Saturday’s finale against Collegiate, the Crusaders found something special in their halftime hangout.
Specifically, junior guard Thomas O’Connor did. He hit four of Kapaun’s six three-pointers in the third quarter, and the Crusaders pulled away for a 62-45 victory and their fifth title in the tournament’s 46-year history.
O’Connor, the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 17 points. His backcourt mate, Atir Cherne, had 21 as Kapaun (7-5) overwhelmed its east-side neighbors after a close first half.
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“Our third quarters the last two games were awful,” said O’Connor, who scored 52 points in the tournament and made 13 three-pointers in the three games. “Tonight, we came out and had a big run. I didn’t let my troubles in the first half affect me.”
O’Connor hit his first shot of the game – a three-pointer – before missing on his next six attempts. But the 5-foot-11 sharpshooter regained his touch with his first attempt of the second half to put Kapaun ahead for good at 29-26.
O’Connor made four of his five threes in the third quarter, and Cherne and reserve guard Cody Hope also connected from long range in the third as Kapaun turned a 26-24 halftime lead into a comfortable 46-30 advantage.
“When he hits a shot, it’s just big,” Cherne said of O’Connor. “They were really deep. He wasn’t hitting in the first half, but he came out and hit those, and it just changed the whole game for us.”
Cherne had his best game of the tournament, as well. He scored 12 first-half points as the teams traded the lead six times and finished with three of Kapaun’s nine three-pointers.
“Thomas shot the ball as well as I have seen a kid shoot the basketball in a long time,” Collegiate coach Mitch Fiegel said. “I thought Cherne did a great job running the show without turning it over.
“Those two guys came to play, and they just single-handedly dominated the game.”
Collegiate (7-4), with its waves of substitutes, fed off turnovers in reaching the title game. But the Spartans, who were led by sophomore Kendall Reed’s 14 points, forced just seven against Kapaun while committing 18.
As a result, Kapaun attempted 52 shots in the game; Collegiate was limited to 36.
“We were going to come right back at them and press them right away,” Kapaun coach John Cherne said. “That was about the only adjustment we made. We were going to stand toe-to-toe.”
Combined with its long-range assault in the third quarter, Kapaun was in control in the second half. O’Connor finished 5 of 12 from three-point range, but twice paired his third-quarter baskets on consecutive possessions, which gave the Crusaders a psychological boost.
“They were just tougher than we were in every category,” Fiegel said. “As a young team, I think I’m going to have to say we just weren’t ready for this. We took two steps forward and one step back in this tournament, and we have five weeks to come together and become the team we want to be.”
El Dorado 58, Circle 44 — The host Wildcats used second-half runs of 11-0 and 14-3 to pull away from Circle in the third-place game.
Travis House scored 22 points and Wes Haines added 17 for El Dorado (7-4), which started the final flurry after Circle’s Garrett Cannon opened the fourth quarter with a basket to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 39-36.
Circle (8-4), which played without leading scorer Dylan Driver, was led by Justin Schmidt’s 11 points.
Newton 53, Trinity Academy 34 — Sam Lehman scored 17 points and Newton’s size advantage played a pivotal role in the Railers earning fifth place.
Lehman, a 6-foot-5 junior, finished the tournament with 55 points. Newton (6-5) held Trinity without a field goal for more than 10 minutes at the start of the game.
Matt Jones and Jacob Johnson each scored nine points for Trinity (8-5).
Great Bend 51, Campus 30 — Nick Warren’s 11 points helped Great Bend win for the first time since its season opener and gave the Panthers seventh place.
Trey Ibarra added 10 points for Great Bend, which outscored Campus 25-1 from the free-throw line. Colby Leeper led Campus with six points.
Kapaun 62, Collegiate 45
KAPAUN: Ewers 0 0-0 0, O’Connor 6 0-0 17, Auer 0 0-0 0, Monty 1 2-2 4, Cherne 7 4-4 21, Patton 2 2-2 6, Hickerson 2 0-0 4, Sheets 0 0-0 0, Hope 1 0-0 3, Lickteig 2 3-4 7.
COLLEGIATE: Chugg 0 6-6 6, Christian 2 0-2 4, Larsen 0 2-2 2, Root 2 1-4 5, Copher 0 0-1 0, Adams 0 0-0 0, Waddell 3 1-2 7, Reed 5 0-0 14, Dick 2 3-4 7, Moxley 0 0-0 0.
El Dorado 58, Circle 44
CIRCLE: Kirkpatrick 1, Cannon 8, Smith 3, Richard 6, Wright 11, Fowler 3, Horyna 9, Davis 3.
EL DORADO: Haines 17, House 22, Haury 4, Johnson 7, D. Hildreth 1, Howland 7.
Newton 53, Trinity 34
TRINITY: Carro 1, Mosley 4, Miller 2, Jones 9, Johnson 9, Burns 6, List 3.
NEWTON: J. Kingsley 2, Drinnen 4, Berry 6, Robinson 8, Lehman 17, Downey 6, R. Kingsley 8, Carlgren 2.
Great Bend 51, Campus 30
GREAT BEND: Crosby 9, Beck 6, Sullivan 2, Reiser 9, Warren 11, Bryant 2, Ibarra 10, Westhoff 1.
CAMPUS: Nicks 3, Schutt 2, Moody 5, Moore 4, Hyde 2, Parker 2, Chavez 2, Leeper 6, Howard 4.