It took a full 32 minutes to decide it, but Fulton’s might trumped Polo’s speed in a back-and-forth third-place game Saturday night at the Eastland Holiday Tournament.
The Steamers employed a balanced offensive attack and got a few key stops at the end to pull out a 64-60 victory against the Marcos. Fulton scored the contest’s last five points.
“We knew that was going to be a fight,” Fulton coach R.J. Coffey said. “Polo, they play fast. They’re high energy on both ends, and they can really shoot the ball, so we knew it was going to be a tough one. I’m proud of my guys. They did exactly what they needed to do to end the tournament the right way.”
The game pitted teams with contrasting styles. Polo (13-4) is guard-oriented, with an attack heavy on 3-point shooting and small, quick players taking the ball to the basket – with forwards Justin Young and Reid Taylor to clean up the misses.
Fulton (13-4), meanwhile, goes through senior forwards Tyler Bruggenwirth and Nate Wierema on most possessions, and is content to pass the ball around until something breaks. Bruggenwirth (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Wierema (6 points, 12 rebounds) were a handful inside.
“We thought that once we got the ball down the court and we were able to get it into the bigs, it was going be hard for them to stop both of them,” junior guard Keegan Kloepping said. “No matter what they did, one of them was going to go off in the end, and we knew we could come out with the win.”
Kloepping kept the Steamers in the game early. He hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, another in the second, and his 15 first-half points helped Fulton go into halftime facing a mere 34-33 deficit.
The final frantic minutes of the game saw neither team able to gain more than a one-point lead. Polo’s last lead was at 60-59 after Trevin Woodin dropped in a pair of free throws with 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play.
Fulton responded with a layup from Kyle Schipper at the 1:50 mark to go up 61-60. The quick-strike Polo offense then came up empty, as Woodin’s layup was blocked by Wierema.
The Steamers then ran more than a minute off the clock before calling timeout with 30.3 seconds to go. A pair of quick fouls put Cody Sanderson on the line, and he responded with two free throws with 27.2 seconds to go to up Fulton’s lead to 63-60.
On Polo’s next possession, Brady Webb hoisted a 3-pointer that missed with about 12 seconds to go. The Marcos’ Young latched onto the rebound, only to have it poked away by the Steamers’ Jamison Osborn. He passed it to Sanderson, who was fouled with 8.3 seconds on the clock.
Sanderson hit one free throw to seal the win.
Kloepping and Bruggenwirth each had 17 points to pace the Fulton offense, Schipper had nine and Sanderson added eight.
“I thought we did a nice job of not only getting it into our bigs,” Coffey said, “but our guards were penetrating and attacking the rack, and dropping it off to the bigs. I thought we had a good mix of perimeter guys and bigs tonight. When we have a good mix, we’re pretty tough, when our bigs and our guards are rolling.”
Bruggenwirth entered the game with 989 career points, and a layup late in the third period put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career. He was presented with a game ball after the contest.
“It was a great feeling – probably the best feeling I’ve had playing basketball,” Bruggenwirth said.
Woodin started out like a house afire for Polo as he drained his first three shots from long distance – the last of which he turned into a four-point play. He wound up with a team-high 17 points.
“I had a couple of open looks, and then I started feeling it,” Woodin said.
Webb had 15 points, Braiden Soltow had 14, and Young chipped in nine. Young and Soltow each grabbed seven rebounds.
The Marcos led by eight points twice in the third quarter, the last of which was at 45-37 after Woodin connected on two foul shots with 4:07 on the clock.
A failure to build on, or at least maintain that lead, was ultimately the Marcos’ downfall, according to head coach Matt Messer.
“We started to gamble defensively and gave up three layups to let them get back to within two by the end of the quarter,” Messer said. “If we would have held those possessions out a little bit better, I think we would have been all right. Energy- and effort-wise, we gave it all we could. There were just a couple of mistakes we need to clean up.”