The first three games of the 2011 Boy's State basketball tournament saw #1 seed Danville survive Boyden Hull (69-62), the 4-seed Cedar Falls NUH hold off Lynville-Sully (54-46) and #2 Iowa Mennonite fall to Guthrie Center (53-49).
St. Mary's then let the Class 1A field know what they had in store for themselves against the Panthers. Racing out of the gates, St. Mary's had the decision in hand by half time in a 63-34 dismantling of the Spartans (22-4) that secured the first boy's basketball State tournament victory in school history.
Unsure of how they might shoot inside of Wells Fargo Arena, the Panthers initially looked to establish control of the game on the glass and on the defensive end. They accomplished just that as points after offensive rebounds or points off turnovers fueled 11 of St. Mary's first 14 on the scoreboard.
"We knew the big thing coming in, the big thing for us all year, has been rebounding and defense," said SM senior Connor Richardson. "We came out there and set the tone. We hadn't seen anyone press them on the tape we watched, and it worked out in our favor. I don't think we were really too nervous for this one. I think we were more nervous for the Laurens-Marathon game. Once you get down here, you can just have some fun with it."
"I might have been a little nervous at the start, but we got out there and got rid of that pretty quick," said sophomore Kennedy Drey. "Coach told us we need to set the tone with our defense, and that's what we did. It's a great experience being down here. The first time in school history, it's a great accomplishment."
Turns out, the shots were falling early as well as a Connor Richardson three opened scoring, and Luke Lenhart pushed it to 5-0 with a lay-up a minute into the game. A pair of Andy Drey free throws made it a 7-3 lead, and after a Kennedy Drey steal, Nate Lenhart pushed it to 9-3 with a jumper at the 4:30 mark.
Two Luke Lenhart free throws opened up a double digit lead a minute later at 16-5, and two more from the guard made it 18-5 after one quarter of play. Nate Lenhart, Kennedy Drey and Richardson then combined for a 6-0 run to start quarter number two for a 24-5 lead. The advantage swelled to 20 less than a minute later as Nate Lenhart's jumper made it 26-6.
St. Mary's would lead by as many as 27 in the second, before entering the intermission with a 41-16 lead. Nate Lenhart made it 49-19 two minutes into the third with a pair of free throws. Richardson would make it 57-21 with a lay-up at the 2:30 mark of the third, enacting the first continuous clock game in State tournament history.
With the starters soaking up some well earned rest in the fourth, the Panthers cleared the bench as 14 different boys saw action in the opener.
The St. Mary's game plan to control the game with their rebounding and defense was well executed as they finished with a 33-27 edge on the glass. Defensively, they totaled 15 steals en route to 20 Exira EHK turnovers. They held the Spartans to a 12-of-42 (29%) afternoon shooting the ball. Tony Santisteban was the lone exemption to the Exira EHK shooting woes as he finished 8-of-19 from the floor for 19 points. Dayton Rasmussen added seven.
St. Mary's finished 19-of-46 (41%) from the floor, 3-of-12 (25%) from three and a lights out 22-of-23 (96%) from the foul line.
Richardson led the Panthers with 16 points, four rebounds and four steals. Kennedy Drey totaled 11 points, 10 boards, four blocks and four steals, Luke Lenhart had 15 points, five rebounds and four steals, and Nate Lenhart had 11 points and three rebounds.
"That's one of the great things about our team," said Richardson on having four players in double figures. "You can't key on just one of us. We really showed our balance."
The victory pushes St. Mary's into the 12:15PM semifinal Thursday afternoon, where they'll meet a Guthrie Center (20-7) team that shocked Iowa Mennonite behind the efforts of 6'5" Dustin Clark's 20-point, 11 rebound effort and another 22 points from Brandon Clark.
"We were down there watching the games today," said Drey. "They're all good teams. Coming out here and winning by 30 or so showed what kind of team we are too. We did well out there today (Monday)."
"I think other teams have definitely got to be asking themselves who this St. Mary's team is, how do you slow them down?" said Luke Lenhart. "We know we've got to keep playing defense and keep rebounding against Guthrie's big guy. We're just going to get out there and run and have some fun."