It was always going to be a shooter’s game. Early it looked to be Leo’s, but for the majority of the game it was all Mishawaka Marian on the long range threats as the Knights beat Leo 74-63 to win the Class 3A north semi state.
While Leo took their time feeling out the 2-3 zone early, their shooters didn’t hesitate with room as their first three attempts were three pointers. While Luke Lagrange missed his opening shot, the next two were drained by Jackson McGee, who avoided the unforgiving Elkhart rims by just splashing his first two three point attempts.
Richard Brooks answered though and as Mishawaka Marian clamped down their full court press, it limited Leo’s opportunities.
When they did get across half court, getting it inside was difficult. While DJ Allen was unsuccessful with his first shot, the Lions couldn’t get the ball to Caedmon Bontrager in the post much at all. He did hit a heavily guarded fadeaway with 2:47 to play in the first quarter to open up his scoring. His first true paint touch came seven full minutes into the game, where he drew a foul and was able to knock down both free throws. Leo’s patience against the 2-3 zone didn’t allow Marian to get out and attack and push pace early much but five different Marian players did score in the first quarter while McGee (9) and Bontrager (4) had all of Leo’s scoring.
Bontrager’s early block in the second led to a transition alley oop from Xavier Middleton to Bontrager to tie the game at 15 and steal momentum back.
That’s what Middleton does, it’s what he did last year, and having Bontrager read his teammate and make a great baseline cut was the type of move that was always something that could change momentum. But for Leo, they couldn’t make headway as Marian scored next after a scramble of players diving for a loose ball and a Brooks three pointer for Marian’s biggest lead to that point at five points, 20-15. The Knights would end up scoring again on Kaleo Kakalia’s third chance tip in with the Knights scoring 11 straight after Bontrager’s dunk. Middleton’s made free throw with with 48 seconds to play in the first half made him just the third Lion to score in the opening half.
Mishawaka Marian led 29-16 at halftime as Brooks had 13 and Leo was shooting just 28 percent from the field.
Brooks hit a three to open the second half and things didn’t get much better from there. With 5:17 to play in the third, Deaglan Sullivan got into the paint and scored an and-one on a DJ Allen foul. On the other end, Bontrager shot back with a strong and-one of his own as the Lions looked to keep within in 20 points and hope for a comeback like 2021’s semi state round win over South Bend St. Joe. Back to back baskets inside for Allen and Bontrager was a good omen as the Lions hadn’t been able to make much headway in the paint but each time the Knights had an answer and it felt more impactful. The Knights were able to find their pace in transition better even after a made Leo basket as they drove and slithered their way around Leo’s press to find some looks of their own at the rim that weren’t heavily contested.
Leo continued to be aggressive at going towards the basket in the third quarter, as opposed to the first half where they took time with Marian’s zone. The urgency was good to see out of Leo and something we’ve seen before with great success. With 2:10 left in the third, Bontrager again was strong inside to reach 14 points and after a big defensive rebound, he drew a foul that sent him to the free throw line; with 1:46 left in the third, Leo was already in the bonus.
Leo closed out the third with the edge on back to back scores from the Hiteshew brothers. Brody Hiteshew hit a pair of free throws and then after forcing a Knight turnover, Trey Hiteshew buried a three pointer at the buzzer to get Leo back within 12 to head to the final frame.
Marian pushed their lead back to 15-plus multiple times in the fourth quarter but again Leo’s defense showed strength. After another alley oop to Bontrager, the Lions stile the ball back away and Ayden Ruble scored his first basket of the night to get the lead back down to 12 at 56-44 with just over five minutes left to play in the game. On the other end, Sullivan put away free throws 11 and 12 to help Marian get comfortable again momentarily before Trey Hiteshew hit his second three pointer of the game.
A breakaway slam from Brooks for his 25th points with just over three minutes to play in the game put an exclamation point on the game, putting Marian back up 17 again. The Knights, from there, kept getting out in transition despite Leo trying to take chunks out of the lead, mostly from Bontrager at the rim; he finished with 26 points to lead Leo. McGee added 13 points.
Brooks led Mishawaka Marian with 29 points (6-of-8 from three point range). as they milked the clock in the closing minute of the game, swinging it away from Leo’s hybrid zone.
The score difference was all about the second quarter, where Marian outscored Leo 14-3. Outside of that quarter, the point totals were even for the game.
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