AURORA — A short-handed Northwest boys basketball team came up on the short end in a Central Conference Tournament semifinal game Friday at Aurora High School.
Colton Steer scored 24 points and Cooper Anthony had 14 as Crete advanced to the tournament final with a 55-49 victory over the Vikings.
Class B No. 3 Northwest (15-2) was playing without three regulars, including two starters. Seniors Alex Larsen, Trevor Kraft and Kyle Bockmann were all out after being suspended for 15 days for violating team rules.
The three will miss four games before they’re eligible to return to action.
Northwest coach Ryan Rathke was pleased with his team’s play.
“I thought our kids did a great job doing what we asked them to do this game,” Rathke said. “I thought we executed what we wanted to do. The effort was just tremendous. I was very, very proud of our effort.”
But the Vikings had trouble controlling Steer. The 6-foor-3 senior was 8-for-11 shooting from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line.
“He’s tough to guard,” Rathke said. “He’s a very good shooter. I thought their inside presence hurt us a lot in the first half. I thought we did a little bit better job in the second half.
“We had a lot of tired kids there at the end. Their effort was tremendous, but we were restricted with some things we could do offensively and defensively.”
Steer was 6-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals were trying to protect the lead. They held a 40-36 lead going into the final quarter, but 3-pointers by Austin Havranek and Zach Rouzee pulled Northwest to within 44-42 with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But the Cardinals made 10-of-12 shots from the line to hold off the Vikings down the stretch.
“It was a three-point game there for quite a while,” Rathke said. “We needed to get a bucket and we needed them to miss some free throws. I didn’t really think we could turn them over a lot, but I thought if we got them on the line they might miss some one-and-ones.”
Crete coach Brent Cole said Steer is the team’s leading scorer for the year at about 11 points per game.
“We’ve struggled offensively this year,” Cole said. “We went to him a lot tonight. We just felt like we needed to get it inside to him and once he made a couple of baskets, we kept feeding it to him.
“And he was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. He made some big plays.”
That free-throw performance was a far cry from what Steer did about three weeks ago when he was 0-for-10 from the line.
Cole said Steer went back to the gym that night and made 100 free throws before he quit.
“Since that night he’s been shooting a really good percentage,” Cole said. “He’s a kid who puts in the work. It embarrassed him. He let the team down, and he was just going to go in there and work.”
The Cardinals have now won back-to-back games after losing three in a row. Cole said the win over Northwest will help his team’s confidence.
“More than anything it helps solidify our approach as coaches with our guys,” Cole said. “For two weeks in a row, after we had a losing streak we made an effort to say we want progress, not perfection. This just helps our players get more confidence believing what we tell them.”
Alex Waters led the Vikings with 16 points while Darrek McNelis added 12.
The Vikings will now play a consolation game at 8 p.m. against Columbus Lakeview, a 72-53 loser to York in the other semifinal.
Rathke said he talked to his players about the team’s goals after the loss to Crete.
“We also talked about getting better,” Rathke said. “We want to go day by day and get better. We talked about the district tournament ahead of us, how we want to be on a mission to win that down the road, but we have to get better to do that.”
Crete (7-8) ................. 15 7 18 15—55
Northwest (15-2) ................. 12 13 11 13—49
C: Hintz 0-2 3-4 3, Anthony 5-9 0-0 14, J. Harms 2-4 0-0 4, Steer 8-11 8-8 24, McGinnis 4-12 0-0 9, Meinke 0-0 0-0 0, N. Harms 0-3 0-0 0, Kasik 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-41 12-14 55.
N: Waters 8-12 0-0 16, Rouzee 4-7 1-2 12, McNelis 3-7 2-4 8, Dahlkoetter 3-11 0-0 8, Koepp 1-2 0-0 2, Elsworth 0-0 0-0 0, Willis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-41 3-6 49.
3-point goals — Crete 5-11 (4-7, McGinnis 1-3, Hintz 0-1). Northwest 6-15 (Rouzee 3-5, Dahlkoette 2-8, Havranik 1-2, Waters 0-2). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Crete 28 (Steer 7). Northwest 18 (McNelis 6). Turnovers — Crete 10, Northwest 7. Total fouls — Crete 9, Northwest 13. Technicals — None.