Centerville were winners of their last three games, which were all on the road. They were feeling good about how they were playing but knew they faced a difficult task ahead of them in a 10-1 Albia team. The Big Reds proved up for the challenge as they would use a fourth quarter comeback to knock off Albia 66-56 before a capacity crowd on Tuesday night.
“We had a lot to play for,” Centerville head coach Matt Kruzich said. “These guys really put it to us last time when they beat us by 20 with five guys in double figures. We came out with a chip on our shoulder and we knew it was going to be one of those nights where we had to play every possession like it could be the last one. I give everyone on the team credit for this win because they all stepped up at a different time in this game.”
This one was physical throughout the game and both sides set the tone early. Centerville looked to attack the paint off the dribble while Albia was attacking the glass and going into the post. Both were scoring at a good clip but both were also committing a tone of fouls including chargers, which both teams combined to approached double digits on the night.
In the end, Centerville trailed Albia 15-14 after the first eight minutes of play. The second quarter was similarly back and forth with the Big Reds getting into foul trouble with Matthew McDonald and Trent McCann both picking up their third fouls. Albia would hold a five-point lead at the half.
“We came out with a lot of energy. I thought our first quarter was terrific, Albia made some nice adjustments in the second quarter running some give-and-goes against our triangle-and-two defense. I loved our energy defensively, we were more active tonight than we’ve been all year.”
Defense is what made the difference down the stretch. Albia’s hands were active in the third quarter, forcing turnovers and capitalizing on the other end. McDonald picked up his fourth foul with four minutes left and had to be cautious to avoid his fifth the rest of the way.
Centerville got a big quarter from Quinton Koestner, who was aggressive scoring nine points in the third to keep the Big Reds within eight heading into the fourth. Despite all the foul trouble early on, Centerville was still playing at a high level on both ends.
“I loved the way we played especially because I felt we were a little handcuffed with all the foul trouble,” Kruzich said.
The game looked to have reached a tipping point early in the fourth quarter. Centerville found themselves trailing 52-43 with 5:34 to go. Merrick Mathews had just fouled out and the Big Reds were forcing things on offense.
With the game sitting at a breaking point, Centerville turned it around and did it quickly.
The Big Reds would run out on a 6-0 run over the next minute with McCann scoring on a nice move in the point and then following that up with another hoop plus the foul. McCann would miss the ensuing free throw but Brady Kauzlarich was Johnny-on-the-spot to get the offensive rebound and put back to cut Albia’s lead to 52-49 with 4:28 to go.
Centerville grabbed the lead with three minutes left and held a 55-54 lead with 1:36 left in the game. From there it would be about making their free throws and getting stops.
Centerville did both as they made 9-of-12 of their free throws down the final stretch including making their last six in a row. They did that while holding Albia to just one made basket to pull off the big 66-56 win.
“I truly felt in the last two minutes once we got a four-point lead on them, I really thought they felt the pressure that they’ve been putting on a lot of people this year and I think that affected their shots,” Kruzich said.
McDonald led all scorers with 17 points while three other Big Reds also finished in double digits. Koestner had 16 points while Kauzlarich ended with 15 points and McCann added 12 points.
“It was a good team win and it’s just so nice to see everyone contribute and play as well as they can,” Kruzich said.
Centerville (7-7) will look to extend their win streak on Friday at 7:45 p.m. when they travel to face Chariton (5-7).