Colton Booher had already made some history.
By virtue of his 22-point performance in Saturday’s NTC Tournament title game, the St. Elmo senior had locked up a spot on the all-tournament team long before the final buzzer sounded.
It was Booher’s fourth all-tournament selection – an unprecedented feat in the event’s 73-year history.
So it only seemed fitting that Booher would make a little more history in the final seconds of an already thrilling title tilt against St. Anthony by sending the game into overtime and propelling the Eagles to their first NTC Tournament title since 1972.
But unfortunately for the Eagles, recent history prevailed, as Booher’s potential game-tying 3-point attempt was off in the final seconds, and St. Anthony held on for yet another championship with a 51-47 victory.
The Bulldogs claimed their 19th tournament title by hitting 5 of 6 free-throw attempts in the final 43 seconds, and a momentum-changing third-quarter funk proved too much for St. Elmo to overcome.
Still, Eagles coach Greg Feezel refused to nit-pick his fifth-seeded team’s effort in what turned out to be the closest title game since 2002.
‘I’m proud of the kids,’ Feezel said. ‘I’m not going to sit here and place blame anywhere here. St. Anthony respected us and played us solid, and we respected them. It’s just a game we lost, and you have to move on.’
The Eagles’ history-making theme actually started two days prior to the title game, as they beat Teutopolis for the first time since St. Elmo’s state-tournament team topped the Wooden Shoes 20 years ago.
The current version of the Eagles seemed positioned to pull off a feat even their storied predecessors couldn’t manage in Saturday’s championship, playing at an extremely high level throughout the first half, resulting in a 28-20 lead at intermission.
The Eagles seized the momentum at the end of the first quarter, as a 10-0 run capped by a Booher 3-pointer gave St. Elmo a 17-9 lead.
St. Anthony managed to cut St. Elmo’s lead down to four points midway through the second quarter, but Booher propelled the Eagles to an eight-point halftime lead with a thunderous two-handed dunk off a give-and-go pass, sending a tremendous throng of St. Elmo supporters into a frenzy.
The Eagles hit a serious snag at the start of the third quarter, however, turning the ball over on three of their first four possessions and going scoreless over the first 3:58 of the second half.
The Eagles seemed to have weathered the storm after a Booher 3-pointer gave St. Elmo a 33-28 lead midway through the frame, but St. Anthony countered with a pair of free throws, and a potential Richard Waterman 3-point play was waved off by a controversial charge call.
The Bulldogs responded with a 12-4 run over the final two minutes of the quarter, giving them a lead they would not relinquish.
John Steppe’s 3-pointer pushed the Bulldogs over the hump, 36-35, with 1:35 to go, and Anthony Hecht followed with a steal and fast-break bucket.
The Bulldogs went on to outscore St. Elmo 20-9 in the third period, as the Eagles turned the ball over five times and shot just 3 of 9 from the field.
‘In order for us to succeed down the road, we have got to be able to score and not hit droughts,’ Feezel said. ‘When we do that, we’re going to beat a lot of teams. But that third quarter hurt. We’ve got to be able to score 10-15 points a quarter, at least.’
Despite a frustrating start to the second half, the Eagles refused to quit in the final frame, as they twice cut a St. Anthony’s lead to just one point in the final 1:30.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they fouled the wrong guy after each basket, as Kyle McHugh hit 4 of 4 at the line in the final minute.
‘Those were probably the four biggest free throws of Kyle’s life, and he stuck ’em,’ Bulldogs coach Kyle Britton said.
McHugh’s final two free throws gave St. Anthony a 50-47 lead, but the Eagles still had time to counter with 12 seconds to go. Feezel drew up a play designed for 3-point marksman Wade Nevergall, but the senior guard was covered, and Booher opted to put up a 3-point attempt that was a little short. The Bulldogs then hit a free throw to clinch it.
Despite the loss, the Eagles made a statement that they are one of the NTC’s elite teams this year.
‘I told (assistant) coach (Ryan) Beccue today that I just wanted to come over here and show that the best two teams are here,’ Feezel said. ‘Overall, maybe we aren’t. But maybe we are for this week.’
Booher also staked his claim as one of the best players in tournament’s long history. The 6-foot-4 swingman’s 22 points pushed him past former teammate Logan Mahon as St. Elmo’s all-time NTC Tournament leading scorer, putting him in a ninth-place tie overall on the all-time tournament scoring list with 182 points.
Booher added six rebounds, three blocks and three assists in an electrifying performance.
‘He’s a nice player,’ Feezel said. ‘He creates a lot for other people, and he plays hard.
‘Sometimes, I wish he’d pressure a little bit more defensively. But he’s the one guy we can’t afford to have in foul trouble. We just can’t afford to have him off the court.’
David Cameron added 11 points, but Feezel was more impressed with his defensive effort against St. Anthony standout Blake Koerner, who was held to eight points.
‘He’s put two great defensive games together in a row against players I feel are very good scorers in this conference,’ Feezel said. ‘He played awful hard tonight, and I think he’s coming around.’
And despite going away disappointed, St. Elmo’s huge crowd of supporters was rewarded with the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
Nevergall joined Booher on the all-tournament squad.
St. Elmo 17 11 9 10 – 47
St. Anthony 9 11 20 11 – 51
St. Elmo scoring – Booher 9-16 2-3 22, Cameron 3-7 4-4 11, Fritcher 1-1 0-0 2, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Nevergall 2-9 0-0 6, Waterman 3-4 0-1 6. Totals 18-38 6-8 47.
St. Anthony scoring – Baker 0-1 1-2 1, Fearday 2-2 0-0 4, Hecht 4-7 1-2 9, Koerner 3-6 2-2 8, McHugh 1-6 4-4 7, Schmidt 1-1 0-4 2, Steppe 5-11 0-0 12, Winkler 0-0 2-4 2, Worman 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 18-39 10-18 51.
3-point goals – St. Elmo 5-15 (Booher 2, Nevergall 2, Cameron), St. Anthony 5-11 (McHugh, Worman 2, Steppe 2). Rebounds – St. Elmo 20 (Booher 6, Cameron 6), St. Anthony 20 (Hecht 5). Assists – St. Elmo 12 (Nevergall 6). Turnovers – St. Elmo 10, St. Anthony 6. Personal fouls – St. Elmo 19, St. Anthony 13. Fouled out – Waterman.