HULL, Iowa | Sergeant Bluff-Luton got the shot it wanted at the end of the game and there may have been contact when Conner Groves took a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but no foul was called and Hull Western Christian held on for a 67-65 boys basketball victory here Thursday night.
The hard-luck Warriors fought back from a 12-point deficit but tumbled to their fifth consecutive loss. However, four of those are by a combined 19 points.
Western Christian, ranked No. 2 in Iowa Class 2A and the defending state champion, had a 59-47 advantage with 5:45 left in the game but nearly let it slip away.
“In all six of our games, four of them have come down to something like this,” Western Christian Coach Bill Harmsen said. “We finished this game and came out with a victory but we have to get better at the process. With this young team we only have one or two guys out there who have been in this situation before so we're still learning.”
Trailing 67-60 with 33 seconds remaining, SB-L (3-5) got two free throws from Daniel Wright with 19 ticks left and a long 3-pointer from Groves with 7.7 left. Western's Caleb Harmsen missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and the Warriors called time out with two seconds remaining.
They got the ball in the hands of their sharpshooter Groves, who was able to get an off-balance shot from beyond the arc. Coach Adam Vander Schaaf and the rest of the SB-L bench felt there should have been a foul called, but there were no whistles and the game ended.
“What's not in dispute is that there was contact,” Vander Schaaf said. “I guess evidently it was legal contact. We were hopeful we would be at the line in that situation but that's not what was called.”
“He was straight up, we defended it well,” Harmsen said. “Bleeker did a real nice job all night on Groves. It's just one of those deals where I felt he covered him really well and he missed the shot.”
Western Christian improved its record to 6-0 behind a balanced performance. Jacob Vis, a 6-6 junior, finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Caleb Harmsen and Ben Granstra added 16 points apiece.
Granstra had eight points in the third quarter, sparking a Wolfpack surge that saw them outscore SB-L 18-9 and take a 54-45 lead at the break. Granstra also had a steal and layup at the halftime buzzer, forcing a 36-36 tie.
“We had a pretty good lead but we have to figure out a way to ice out the end of our games,” Granstra said. “I worked on a little hesitation move in practice this week and that seemed to help, especially with Jake Vis coming up to screen for me.
“They play a lot of good teams during the season. Their record doesn't maybe show how good they are but that is a really tough team and a bunch of good athletes. We're really young so we have a lot to learn, but we have a lot of season left and a lot of stuff to work on over break.”
Sam DeMoss, a 6-2 junior, scored a career-high 20 points to lead Sergeant Bluff-Luton. DeMoss tossed in seven to fuel the fourth-quarter rally when the Warriors outscored SB-L 20-13.
Groves finished with 18 points and Jeremiah Khat was also in double figures with 11 points.
“I'm proud of the guys, it was a good battle and I thought we improved as a team this week,” Vander Schaaf said. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in the third quarter and couldn't finish the stops. I thought we did a little better finishing the stops in the fourth, it felt like we were closing off defensive possessions which helps us run a little bit and we were able to make some shots to get close.”
Four of Western Christian's six wins have been by single digits, three of those by four points or less.
“They are really good and force you into doing a lot of things you don't want to see your guys doing,” Harmsen said. “I thought fatigue throughout the course of the night for us played a large factor in it. We got up 12 and Khat had a couple strong takes to the basket and Groves hits that tough three. Put that together with us missing five free throws in the fourth quarter and that's where it's at.”