Christmas Tournament: Notre Dame withstands Leopold's rally to make semifinals

Friday, December 28, 2012

Even with a 12-point lead late in the third period, Notre Dame coach Kevin Roberts never quite felt comfortable.

And with good reason. Leopold had one heck of a rally left in it.

The Wildcats twice took one-point leads in the final period, but the Bulldogs withstood the rally and hung on for a hard-fought 63-58 victory in a Southeast Missourian Christmas tournament championship quarterfinal at the Show Me Center.

"That's a good team right there," Roberts said of Leopold. "You let them hang around long enough, they're gonna come back on you."

That's exactly what the sixth-seeded Wildcats (10-1) did, thanks to Kyle Stroder. The senior guard scored 33 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter.

Stroder hit four 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the period. His first began a 14-7 run to open the quarter, and his last gave the Wildcats their first lead, 54-53, since early in the game at 9-8.

"They did a good job of getting shots and getting Stroder open," Roberts said. "We tried to make it tough for him to get a shot off, but he was getting good looks."

"He's a heck of a player," Leopold coach Andy Beck said of Stroder. "He made some great shots. And you have to credit the other guys for getting him the ball."

"I just really wanted to get my team back into it," Stroder said, adding he started feeling in rhythm after his first shot of the second half. "I thought I could make a couple of shots and we'd have a chance at it."

Third-seeded Notre Dame (5-5) didn't have a single answer for Stroder, but more than one player came up with a key play late for the Bulldogs. Senior guard Cody Debrock had three baskets, including a 3-pointer, and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line -- all in the final period. Tanner Shively drew a critical charge on Leopold's D.J. Keim with four minutes remaining and Notre Dame trailing by one, and senior Luke Mocherman drew the tough assignment of guarding Stroder 1-on-1 the last half of the final quarter and held him scoreless.

"He was on fire," Debrock said of Stroder. "Whenever he made shots, we knew we had to give more effort on defense. Then we stuck [Mocherman] on him to try and slow him down, and it worked."

Debrock scored 24 points -- 12 in each half -- but was at his best late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. His 3-pointer at the 5:12 mark gave the Bulldogs a 53-51 lead, and his free throw shooting down the stretch kept the Wildcats at bay.

"Being a senior, you have to be a leader," Debrock said. "I just go [to the line] confident I can knock them down, and I did that tonight."

"He's a tremendous player, a tremendous shooter," Roberts said of his senior guard. "He's really stepping up for us big time. He leads by example."

It was the first close contest for Leopold, which opened the season with 10 straight lopsided wins.

"We talked about it," Beck said. "It's one of those games that will make us better. We needed a game like that."

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