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Bulldogs' dream denied
Despite Willen's 31 points, Ruskin comes away withClass 4 state crown.
COLUMBIA -- A cold fourth quarter from the field doomed the Notre Dame boys basketball team's state championship hopes in a 59-56 loss to Ruskin on Saturday in the Class 4 title game at Mizzou Arena.
Notre Dame took its first lead of the game at 49-48 to end the third quarter, but the Bulldogs went nearly 5 minutes without scoring to start the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs missed their first 10 shots in the fourth and hit just two of 14 field goal attempts in the quarter.
"We had shots," Notre Dame coach Paul Hale said. "I counted six straight times we went empty with open looks. You can't ask for more than that. We missed some shots we normally make. The shots just didn't fall."
The score was tied 51-51 with 3:26 after Willen ended Notre Dame's scoring drought with two free throws. But Demetrius Henderson sank a 3-pointer, just his second of the season, to put Ruskin ahead for good at 54-51.
"I just saw an opening and had confidence in my shot," Henderson said.
Henderson finished with 13 points, with 11 in the second half. Seven of those point came in the fourth quarter, including the final two of the game from the free throw line to put the Eagles up 59-56 with 28.1 seconds left."He hit the biggest shot of the game," Hale said. "Our scouting report was we wanted him shooting from outside. We were going to back off him all day, and he made a play."
Notre Dame had two chances to tie the game over the final 28 seconds, but Ty Williams missed two 3's in the final 6 seconds. Williams missed his first attempt with 4 seconds left, and missed again with a second left after retrieving his own miss.
"We wanted to get a 3-pointer and tie it, and we got two open looks, and Ty's our best 3-point shooter," Hale said.
After a hot-shooting performance from beyond the arc in the semifinal win -- Notre Dame hit seven of 16 3's and was 6-for-9 in the second half -- the Bulldogs struggled from 3-point range in the finals. The Bulldogs hit five of 21 3-pointers and made just one of nine 3's in the fourth quarter.
Ryan Willen was 4-for-8 from 3-point range, while the rest of the team was 1-for-13. Williams did not make a 3-pointer in five attempts after sinking four in the semifinals.
"That's one of our strengths," Hale said. "The people who were shooting the 3's normally make them. I have no qualms about that."
Ruskin jumped on the Bulldogs out of the gate with an 8-2 lead early in the first. Notre Dame fell behind by as much as seven points in the second quarter before closing the halftime gap to 36-34.
Despite giving up some size inside, the Bulldogs scored 24 of their 34 points in the opening half from center Willen and sophomore forward Austin Greer. Willen had 16 at halftime.
Notre Dame caught a break to start the third when Ruskin senior point guard Marquise Williams picked up his fourth foul 30 seconds into the third quarter. The Eagles were shaky handling the ball the rest of the quarter with Williams on the bench.
The Bulldogs pulled even for the first time since late in the first quarter at 41-41 on Mark Himmelberg 3-pointer, and tied th score again at 44-44 on Willen's three-point play. Greer's layin with less than 15 seconds left in the third put Notre Dame up 49-48.
"We are a team of spurts," Ruskin coach Gerrry Marlin said. "It's been that way all year. We're also a finishing team. If anything, I was a little conservative. We wanted to make sure we kept the lead, but when we gave it up we got nervous. But nervous is different than scared."
Williams came in to start the fourth quarter and stabilized the Eagles. Both teams struggled offensively in the fourth quarter, but Ruskin was able to seize control of the game by hitting eight of 10 free throws.
That helped the Eagles clinch their first state title in their first final four appearance. The team won its final 29 games after losing the opener to Class 5 finalist Rockhurst.
"This is a win for all the have-nots," Marlin said. "These guys put us on the map."
Michael Craion led the Eagles with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Craion was 7-for-10 from the field.
"Michael's the MVP of this game, probably the MVP in the state," Marlin said.
The Bulldogs were making their first championship game appearance since 1987, the second of back-to-back state titles. Notre Dame finished its season 27-5.
"We had a great year," Hale said. "Coming from losing four starters off a great team we've come a long way. They're state champions in my eyes."
Willen led all scorers with 31 points, including all seven of Notre Dame's points in the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-8 junior added 11 rebounds and was 9-for-23 from the field and 9-for-9 from the free throw line. Greer added 10 points.
Notre Dame had just two seniors on its roster and will return four starters.
"We played hard this year every game and we came out and tried to win," Willen said. "We have to do the same thing next year if we want to come back."