ST. ELMO – It was just a two-point game heading into the final period of the championship game at the St. Elmo Holiday Tournament, and whichever team could battle the fatigue the best was going to win.
Altamont and St. Elmo played at a furious pace for the first 24 minutes on Saturday night, and it turned out that they wouldn’t play any differently over the final eight.
St. Elmo made 16-of-22 free throws in that final period to counteract Altamont’s hot fourth-quarter shooting to take its second straight tournament title with a 69-63 victory.
“We looked tired, but maybe we weren’t,” said coach Greg Feezel. “Maybe we hit that fourth-quarter gas pedal.”
Tournament Most Valuable Player Levi Maxey had a career-high 33 points for the Eagles in the game, but it was senior Connor Beasley who stepped up to take over in the fourth quarter.
Battling a minor ankle injury that he suffered in the first game of the tournament, Beasley had a pair of 3-pointers in the second half, and made 8-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter, a welcome change from the 53.8 percentage he had coming into the game.
“He played like a man,” Maxey said. “He did what he needed to do to keep us in the game.”
Altamont actually took a 51-50 lead with 3:16 left in the game, but a Beasley free throw and 3-pointer in the next minute put St. Elmo back on top for good.
In the final two minutes, the Eagles (6-2) made 11-of-14 free throws after having made just 50 percent of their previous attempts in the game, which is even more remarkable considering fatigued teams don’t always make a lot of late free throws.
“We didn’t look too tired for some of our guys playing the whole night at this pace,” Feezel said. “I thought there were 10 kids on the floor who looked like they worked their tails off.”
Altamont (6-1) was led by junior Garrett Ziegler, who scored 20 points, and senior Jon Kuhns added 16.
The Indians held the lead for much of the first quarter, but Beasley made a jumper in the last few seconds of the first period, and Maxey added nine straight points to open the second quarter to give the Eagles a 24-17 lead,
A 3-pointer from Beasley and a layup from Maxey would extend the 14-0 run, and the Eagles went to halftime with a 36-27 advantage.
“Coach challenged us to get a stop and a score,” Beasley said. “Over and over, we kept doing it, and I’m really impressed with everybody.”
Playing in a surprising zone defense, the Eagles limited Altamont’s opportunities at the rim, but the Indians still made a lot of outside shots, netting seven 3-pointers, including five in the second half.
Zeigler made three of those shots, while Logan Hill and Derek Jahraus each added two.
“We stood in a zone for a reason,” Feezel said. “We knew where their shooters were, and as long as we covered their shooters, we’re fine.
Those long-range shots slowly allowed Altamont back into the game, and the Indians closed the third period on an 8-1 run to set up the thrilling finish in a game that Beasley said ranks in the top five of his career.
“It means a lot,” he said. “We had a good gameplan coming in, listened to what coach had to say and got a victory.
“A lot of people thought Altamont was going to beat us. It was good to show the players from last year, and the fans, that we are here to play this year.”
Saturday, Dec. 15
St. Elmo 69
Points: L. Maxey, 33; Beasley, 21; Bartels, 8; Davis, 4; Wells, 3.
Rebounds: Beasley, 16; L. Maxey, 5; Bartels, 4; Wells, 4; Alec Brady, 3; Davis, 2; Cole Smithson, 1.
Assists: L. Maxey, 4; Beasley, 3; Bartels, 1; Davis, 1; Malachi Maxey, 1.
Steals: L. Maxey, 2; Bartels, 1.
Blocks: Beasley, 2.