EFFINGHAM – Effingham coach Ron Reed knew his senior had a monster game.
But when told Jared Minor -- the 6-foot-3 senior whose role is to provide inside defense and move the ball well – had 21 points, he about fell over.
It was just enough for the Hearts to beat Mount Zion, 69-66, and for Effingham to take its fourth straight conference title.
“Feels good. It’s a great win to win conference,” Minor said. “I mean that’s what we’ve been striving for all year. Coach always talks about putting up another banner, fortunately we were able to do that tonight.”
That 21 points was a career high, and all of it was needed. The Braves, after falling behind by double digits midway through the first quarter, kept inching back into the game. With three minutes left, Mount Zion tied the game up 59 on a Jonah Smith 3, but the Braves could never quite cross over to the lead. Effingham made plenty of free throws down the stretch, making 19 of 25 overall.
As heartbreaking as it was to come so close, Mount Zion coach Bryon Graven took solace in nearly knocking off the now four-time Apollo champs.
“Well, I mean, we just got beat by three by the conference champs on their home floor and we’re missing our sixth man,” he said.
“The gameplan and the scheme that we had, it was effective. You hold (Grant) Wolfe to 12, I think. That’s the game right there. And then they have a guy who we don’t think can make shots that steps up and makes them – I mean, you roll the dice with that kind of defense. As a coach, you say, make someone else beat us. They just had somebody do it.”
Mount Zion gambled, leaving Minor open early. The senior had scored 16 points in the last five games, and he hesitated at first as the Braves gave him space. But after making his opener, he hit his next three and didn’t stop. Soon those jumpers turned into better shots inside as confidence grew.
“Coach talked to me one night after practice about letting things come to me more naturally,” Minor said. “Scoring in the flow of it. My teammates did a great job getting me open and getting me the ball, I got some lucky bounces in there tonight.”
While Effingham worked the interior, Mount Zion stayed within distance thanks to its stellar outside shooting. The Braves were 9 of 21 from beyond the arc – Smith (19 points) and Chuck Kuhle (21 points) each had four 3s.
That display led to Reed fouling late instead of letting the Braves fire away. Up three with a minute left, Reed turned the game into a war of free throws. The only field goal the Braves were able to get off was a Smith shot at the buzzer. He double-clutched, and the shot was off.
“I tell you what, they’re a great shooting ballclub,” Reed said. “We were able to get a little separation in the first half, then they came back after us. We just had enough to hang on.”
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This is the second game with Effingham that Mount Zion’s nearly won. The Hearts needed a layup late to win in Mount Zion before the three-point win on their home floor.
With the young team, Graven’s seeing the progress needed to make the next jump.
“It’s been huge, man,” Graven said about the progress in the past month.
“The ball reversals are getting there, we’re finally learning to attack the ball screens. Things are clicking. It’s just unfortunate it’s the second week of February and not January. We’re moving in the right direction before the postseason, and that’s the ultimate goal.”
The Braves may see Effingham one more time, perhaps later rather than sooner. They’re in the same sub-sectional, but Mount Zion’s in the mix for one of the top four seeds.
More to give
Even with Mount Zion’s good outside shooting, they had plenty of open looks that didn’t fall through.
The Braves well able to find open shooting – Graven’s been stressing working inside out. But it’s also opened up the floor for Kevin Cox, who can move around defenders and finish well at the rim.
“What’s crazy too, is that I think Chuck had a quiet 21,” he said. “We’re thinking, OK, we make one of two more of those, it makes a difference in the game.
“Kevin (Cox) was benefitting from the fact that we were shooting well, he was able to get some post touches. (Brandon Price) crashed the offensive glass, he did a good job of doing that and getting some putbacks.”
For a 5-foot-10 guard, Chuck Kuhle rebounds really well -- he had six on the night.
“We can’t ever go lax against them. When we played at their place, I think we had about a 12-point lead go away and it was tied. It was the same thing tonight.” – Minor, on playing Mount Zion.