It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Concordia Lutheran beat East Noble 58-34 on Tuesday night. No knock on the Knights, I just picked Concordia to win the game earlier in the day during my weekly picks. But a 20-18 game at halftime, as you see by the final score, got out of hand pretty quickly.
East Noble is good. Right now, it looks as though Concordia is better. It didn’t stop the Knights from fighting and fighting good. They hit timely first half shots and spent most of the game pulling back close any time that Concordia made a run. It made one think several times during Tuesday’s game in the Concordia cage that East Noble was going to have a chance to pull this out.
Carly Turner three pointers, powerful and-one chances, they had the Cadets at least near, if not on the ropes a few times. But Concordia proved a valuable point too every time the Knights made a run: they are never out of a game…not yet anyway. It really makes Friday’s conference showdown with Homestead even more interesting than it was to start the week.
The 3-0 Cadets have picked up right where I left them in the spring. Although they didn’t win a Sectional title months and months ago, when I personally last saw Concordia they were upsetting Angola in Sectional play with a stellar defensive effort. They didn’t miss a beat from then until now. Every level on the floor that Concordia could succeed defensively at on Tuesday, they did it…leading to 17 steals throughout their entire team and four blocks to boot.
In the first half, East Noble took advantage of a Chanteese Craig on Carly Turner matchup to hit some triples. Once Craig started chasing her more aggressively out on the perimeter, it forced Turner to settle down into the post. But she couldn’t get anything good off down there, scoring just 6 of her team high 19 points in the second half. While she scored just once at the rim in the second half, Craig swatted three of her shots. It was what I expected going into the game: don’t try to go at Chanteese Craig. So when East Noble avoided that early, there was an inkling that East Noble had found a way to put Concordia out. Then Craig pulled it back in.
It was a surprise though that Concordia even got to succeed at that level on the floor because they had been cutting East Noble down earlier. Once the Cadets picked up on the ball rotation and post entry pass plan of East Noble, they also stifled that. Both Craig and her sister Chastity, as well as Annaka Nelson and Grace Hedtke, rotated on top of the East Noble post ups and into passing lanes more times than I could count on my webbed toes.
But the real game breaker was Concordia’s ability to hound on ball and rip the ball straight away from East Noble’s ball handlers. Rhaya Kaschinske, who was the star of that Angola Sectional win all of those months ago, continues to be one of the most underrated players in the SAC. On Tuesday, she registered exactly zero of Concordia’s 17 steals, but instead pestered Karly Kirkpatrick, allowing the East Noble all-conference guard just one made field goal all night. And when Kirkpatrick can’t score, it changes things.
With East Noble threatening again late in the third quarter, the tide shifted for good. The Knights made it feel like Concordia could be on the outs. Again, not so fast. Nelson slid smoothly into the passing lane with 1:51 left in the period, then streaked coast to coast before stepping through the East Noble transition defenders for a smooth reverse layup. Two plays later, Chastity Craig ripped the ball cleanly away from Turner to lead to another fast break. And though Concordia didn’t convert that time, the two steals in a row just finalized the change in momentum.
In that third frame, Hedtke separated herself on the night too. She was part of that defensive flourishing and on offense, she moved well – somewhat silently – and made East Noble pay with her spot ups and well timed cuts to the rim. She scored 17 of her team high 19 points in the second half with 10 in the third quarter. She also led the Cadets with six steals while Chastity Craig had four and LonDynn Betts had three steals.
They – whoever they are – say that defense wins championships. And here I am again, though expecting Concordia to win this game, astonished at Concordia’s focus, effort and grit defensively. It sets up a big Friday match up with Homestead, but it also sets Concordia apart right now as a team that you can never count down and out.
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