One down, one to go

Saturday, March 10, 2007
Notre Dame players and coach Paul Hale celebrated after the Bulldogs defeated St. Charles 53-51 in the Class 4 semifinal game Friday in Columbia.

The Bulldogs won with late heroics for the second time in their postseason run.

NOTRE DAME 53, ST. CHARLES 51

By Jeremy JoffraY

Southeast Missourian

COLUMBIA -- Last-second heroics kept the Notre Dame boys basketball team on a path to the state title for the second time during the playoffs Friday as junior Ryan Willen sank two free throws with 3.1 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 53-51 win over St. Charles in a Class 4 semifinal at Mizzou Arena.

Notre Dame's Ryan Willen, center, drove past St. Charles forwards Josh Harrellson, left, and Dean Dillen, right, as he scored two of his game-high 19 points Friday during Notre Dame's 53-51 victory in the Class 4 semifinal game in Columbia. (L.G. Patterson ~ Special to the Southeast Missourian)

Notre Dame will play Ruskin at 12:20 p.m. today in the state championship game.

Ruskin, ranked No. 1 in Class 4 in the state poll, survived a fourth-quarter comeback from Willard to win 55-53.

Senior guard Abe Dirnberger sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Notre Dame a two-point win in the district finals. This time, the Bulldogs had a chance to hold on for the final shot with the scored tied 51-51, and they were going to put the ball in leading scorer Willen'ss hands.

Following a timeout with 8.1 seconds remaining, Willen was forced to pick up his dribble with 6-foot-10 Dean Dillen guarding him. Willen forced up a shot as he fell to the floor, but Dillen was whistled for a foul on the play.

"He [Willen] really wanted to run the clear-out, but we were trying to get the ball in the corner and throw it inside to him," Notre Dame coach Paul Hale said. "We just couldn't get it to the corner."

St. Charles coach Gary Wacker, who is retiring after this season, was unhappy with the call following the game.

"We defended it," Wacker said. "He was defended. All I can say is look at the tape. That's the way it is, live with it and move on."

The foul sent Willen to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Willen was able to rim in the first before smoothly swooshing the second.

"I just said a little prayer and made sure I tried to keep it straight," said Willen, who had missed the front end of two two-shot free throw situations in the second half.

After St. Charles took its final timeout to set up an inbounds play, the Pirates tried a deep pass that was intercepted by Dirnberger. He failed to realize how much time was on the clock, though, and was called for travelling with 1.5 seconds remaining after the buzzer sounded and the referees conferenced.

"It was a heart break," Hale said of the call. "That's just excitement. He thought the game was over."

St. Charles' Sam Zimpher was unable to get off a 3-pointer before the buzzer sounded.

"There really wasn't any time to do anything," Wacker said.

The Pirates had led by five points with less than 4 minutes remaining, but momentum swung in Notre Dame's favor when St. Charles center Josh Harrellson fouled out with 2:52 remaining. Harrellson, a Western Illinois recruit and St. Charles' top scorer, left the game with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"It's a shame one of the best big players in the state is sitting on the bench in the state semifinal with 4 minutes left in the game on in my opinion a questionable call," Wacker said.

Harrellson's absence helped clear out the post for the Bulldogs, who had trouble scoring inside all game. St. Charles outscored the Bulldogs 26-14 in the post.

Willen, listed at 6-8 and 190 pounds, had been battling the 265-pound Harrellson throughout the game.

"I wanted the ball even more once he fouled out," Willen said. "Once he fouled out it was, 'Get the ball down low.'"

Austin Greer, Notre Dame's 6-1 sophomore forward, was able to take advantage, stepping to the line to hit two free throws with about 2 minutes remaining to cut the lead to 50-49.

Greer had a tough time inside all game, giving up 9 inches to Dillen. Despite shooting just 2-for-7 from the field, Greer finished with 10 points thanks to a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the line.

"We haven't faced that kind of size all year," Hale said. "We're not very big. I had confidence we could score inside on them. ... We didn't go away from what we've done well all year."

St. Charles expanded its lead to 51-49 with 1:12 remaining when Brandon Sudbrock hit one of two free throws. Dirnberger found an open lane on the other end and hit a layup to tie the score with a minute remaining.

Pirates point guard Rudy Harper then lost control of the ball on the sideline and turned it over with 25 seconds left. It was the 10th turnover for Harper.

"That was a big factor in the game," Wacker said. "We didn't take care of the ball when we had the lead."

Overall, St. Charles finished with 22 turnovers. Harrellson and Pirates guard Mark Halsell had five turnovers apiece, while Notre Dame junior Ty Williams had five steals.

Notre Dame's pressure defense forced 11 steals while St. Charles had just three.

"I thought we started to rush sometimes instead of picking it apart," Harper said. "We had a lot of turnovers. That hurt us."

The game was filled with runs. St. Charles led by five late in the first quarter before the Bulldogs ended the first on a 7-0 run to take a 16-14 lead.

St. Charles used an 11-2 run in the second quarter to take its largest lead at 25-18. The Pirates led 29-25 at halfime.

Notre Dame responded with a 12-2 run in the third to take its largest lead at 37-31, and St. Charles' 8-0 run in the fourth opened up the last real gap at 48-43.

"Two good basketball teams, we just happened to make one more play than they did," Hale said. "Different people stepped up over the last 3 or 4 minutes and hit some big shots."

Notre Dame hit eight of 10 free throws in the second half and was 18-for-22 overall. Willen was 7-for-10 from the charity stripe.

St. Charles hit just 13 of 22. In the fourth quarter the Pirates hit seven of 13 free throws, including two misses on the front end of one-and-one chances.

"We missed some free throws down the stretch which was costly," Wacker said. "We won one at the free throw line in the [playoff] run and lost one here."

Willen led the Bulldogs with 19 points and Williams added 14 points. Greer led the Bulldogs with eight rebounds, and Willen had seven.

Harper added 16 points for St. Charles.

NOTRE DAME 53, ST. CHARLES 51

St. Charles1415913--51
Notre Dame1691513--53

ST. CHARLES (51) -- Sam Zimpfer 5, Mark Halsell 4, Rudy Harper 16, Dean Dillen 4, Josh Harrellson 18, Brandon Sudbrock 4. FG 18, FT 13-22, F 17 (3-pointers: Zimpfer 1, Harper 1. Fouled out: Dillen, Harrellson).

NOTRE DAME (53) -- Abe Dirnberger 5, Ty Williams 14, Austin Greer 10, Ryan Willen 19, Mark Himmelberg 3, Logan Glueck 2. FG 14, FT 18-22, F 22 (3-pointers: Williams 4, Willen 2, Himmelberg 1. Fouled out: Williams).

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