POSTED BY ALTON TELEGRAPH
ALTON — Marquette Catholic coach Steve Medford has a play designed just in case the Explorers wanted to go the safe route and go for the tie.
But junior point guard Sammy Green had other ideas.
Coming off a screen, Green drilled a 3-pointer with six seconds remaining, and Highland sophomore Brady Feldman’s desperation heave at the buzzer was off the mark in the Explorers’ 39-38 win against the Bulldogs on Tuesday at Marquette High School.
The Explorers (24-3), who remained ranked fifth in the latest Class 2A state poll that came out earlier in the day, needed every last shot to fall against a game Highland team that played much better — and has been playing much better — than its 6-17 record indicates.
Up 38-36, the Bulldogs had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but Stephen Schniers, who led the Bulldogs with 11 points, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 21 seconds to play.
Marquette got the ball, called a timeout after reaching past half court and ran a play. Green came off a screen and had an open look and hit nothing but net.
“I told him we were going for the win because it was go big or go home,” Green said of what he told his coach. “… I was definitely surprised that I was wide open considering I made a couple shots earlier. I felt like they didn’t feel we were going for the win, but they just left me wide open so I just had to take it.”
Medford came into the game feeling like this would be a trap game for his kids after a solid victory over McCluer North (Mo.) on Friday.
“The kids really wanted that McCluer North game,” Medford said. “I think the kids looked at the overall record of Highland and that doesn’t do them justice because they play some really good schools. They’ve played Althoff, they’ve played Edwardsville and they’ve played Breese Central really close. They’ve played some really good teams, so I don’t think we prepared really hard for it, but deep down inside, I knew it was going to be a tough game.”
But Medford had the opportunity to call a play for a tying shot … or as Green told him, a winning shot.
“I talked to Sammy earlier about putting in a few little hitters for him just because we want the ball in his hands a little bit more and he has the opportunity right there to go off that and he has (Isaiah) Ervin in the corner to make a little play there,” Medford said. “I didn’t know if he was going to go for the win, but he looked at me and he was like, ‘We’re going to go for the win.’ Sammy’s got ice in his veins, he’s a good basketball player and he made a huge shot.”
All looked like doom and gloom for Marquette after Ervin got a steal late but missed a lay-up with 35.6 to play that would have tied the game.
First-year Highland coach Brian Perkes, who could not use a time out after the Green basket, said he can’t fault his kids for anything tonight.
The Bulldogs maximized possessions, they played with length in a matchup zone and forced Marquette to beat them from the perimeter and simply would not go away.
“I told the kids credit to them, the kid hit the three,” Perkes said. “I don’t think it lessons what we tried to accomplish here. If it hits back iron and we win by two instead of losing by one, does that make our effort any less? Does that make us less of a team? I think not. We’re disappointed that we lost, but they’re awfully good.
“We worked hard. I liked our effort. I like this team. I said all along we we have struggled, especially early, but we’re playing much better now than we were in November. We’re young, I thought we made some youthful mistakes down the stretch, we got a little fidgety with the basketball at times, but I don’t know if that’s not to be expected with four sophomores on the floor and a junior. I think we came away with a lot of positives. We got beat; it’s not the end of the world. We grew up a lot tonight. I told our kids this is probably the toughest venue we’re going to play in all year. You come in here and you got a chance to win, that’s not too bad.”
Marquette got 11 points from Jake Hall, nine from Green and eight from Reagan Snider as well as solid defensive efforts from Bryce Pettiford and strong minutes off the bench from Chris Hartrich.
“When you keep a team under 40 points, you usually should win the game,” said Green of Marquette’s defense. “A win’s a win no matter what.
“They definitely played a lot harder than I expected them to. They just came out, they were out-hustling us and they had us in the first half, but then we turned it up in the fourth quarter.”
The Explorers, who were only 16 of 44 from the floor (opposed to Highland’s 16 of 32), have two regular season games remaining and maybe a wakeup call late in the season.
“We just didn’t shoot the ball really well tonight, didn’t do a lot of thing really well, but the kids kept defending, they kept rebounding and fortunately we make a shot at the end to win,” Medford said. “Sometimes you’ve got to win a grinder.”
MARQUETTE 39, HIGHLAND 38
Highland 10 9 10 9 — 38
Marquette 10 6 12 11 — 39
Highland (6-17) — Dickman 5, LaPorta 8, Kruse 5, Feldman 5, Schniers 11, Torre 4. 2FG-13, 3FG-3, FT-3, PF-7.
Marquette (24-3) — Green 9, Hartrich 2, Ervin 5, Snider 8, Hemann 4, Hall 11. 2FG-10, 3FG-6, FT-1, PF-13.