Monroe Catholic rebounded from an early 10-0 hole to give Southcentral Conference tournament champion Seward a run for its money.
The Seahawks, however, just flat out rebounded.
In its first Class 3A state tournament action since 1997, Seward completely dominated the boards, pulling down 20 on the offensive end alone, and seniors Robert Perea and Dylan Beck netted 19 points apiece in helping the Seahawks survive a first-round scare with a 57-50 victory over the Rams on Thursday morning at Sullivan Arena.
"Any coach I think will tell his players the first day of a tournament, it doesn't matter what kind of a tournament it is, that's the most important game. Because the motto is, you survive and move on," said Seward coach Dan Krier. "That's what I told the kids afterward, I said, 'We did what I told you to do.' So, I'm very proud of them. They worked hard."
Especially on the glass.
The Seahawks only out-rebounded Monroe, 38-34, but owned them to the tune of a 20-9 edge on the offensive glass. Perea, who had 10 rebounds, pulled down five on the offensive end, as did Beck, who had eight in all.
When it was over, Rams coach Frank Ostanik calculated the math.
"The difference is that we turned it over 18 times and they turned it over seven. That means they had 11 more possessions offensively than us," he explained. "And they had 20 offensive rebounds and we had nine. So, that's 22 more possessions.
"But 22 more times they had a chance to score more than us in a game that is really a two-possession game," Ostanik added. "If you score 25 percent of the time out of those 22, well, now you're up two possessions."
What kept it close for Monroe, however, was its brilliant shooting from beyond the arc, as they finished 9-of-16 (56.3 percent) on the game.
"They shot 70-some percent in the first half on 3s," Krier marveled.
Actually, it was 77.8 percent, or 7-for-9, in the opening 16 minutes.
"We've had games where we've shot it well," Ostanik said. "Obviously, we don't shoot it like that every game."
If they hadn't, though, it might have been over by halftime.
Beck and Perea each scored 10 points in staking Seward to a 10-0 advantage just 3 1/2 minutes into the contest, all of their points courtesy of seven Monroe turnovers on its first eight possessions.
The Rams guards then caught fire at just the right time, with senior Nolan Burcell (14 points) canning one of his four treys and junior Jon Sniegowski (13 points) adding two of his three in closing the gap to 12-9 after the first.
The Seahawks, who beat Monroe by 18 earlier in the season, came out strong again in the second quarter, extending the lead to 10 with a 7-0 spurt to begin the frame, but a 3 from Michael Stepovich, who had 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 3:03 to play in the game, and another long ball from Burcell cut it to 19-17 near the halfway mark of the quarter.
"I honestly didn't think they were that good (on 3s) and obviously now we know they are," Perea said. "So we had to tighten our D a little bit more and we had to key those guys that were drilling those 3s.
"I think we all sort of did think it was going to be a little easier until they started coming out and started shooting 3s and stuff," he added of watching their large lead slowly dissipate. "And then the second half we had to pick it up and that's what we did."
But like he said, not until the second half, as Burcell took over in the final two minutes of the first half. He drained a 3 from the corner, added a slicing layup in twice bringing his team within one and then delivered what could have been a dagger, a quick trey at the buzzer that sent the teams into the locker room knotted at 27.
"I knew we were in for a big-time battle," Krier said of his thoughts at halftime. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy."
Beck opened the second half with a fadeaway baseline jumper and a driving layup in stretching the lead to four, but the Rams continued to battle in taking their first lead of the game at 34-33 on the heels of an inside layup off the glass by Stepovich with 2:46 left in the second.
Krier admitted he was worried at that point.
"When you have a Robert Perea and Dylan playing well and a ball-handler like (Travis), and we have a group of seniors that are pretty goal-oriented and they've been wanting to get here pretty bad for a long time," he said. "So when they got that lead, naturally, I was a little bit nervous. But we got lucky and hit some free throws."
Seward's strong rebounding and intense defense down the stretch helped, too.
Beck followed up four misses, three of his own, with a fifth-chance put-back in retaking the lead at the 2-minute mark of the third and the Seahawks would never relinquish the advantage, entering the fourth leading 41-39 after limiting the Rams to 3-of-9 shooting with just one trey in the third.
"In the end, I think that coach Krier's adjustments at halftime. I think that he did what I said that everybody should do to us all season," Ostanik said. "They went man-to-man on our two best guards and then they stuck three guys around Michael and made other guys have to beat them. That's what I would do to us.
"I always say, I don't think it's much of a secret, but at the same time, really nobody's been effective at it if they have tried it," he added. "And their kids did a wonderful job."
That improved effort carried over to the fourth as sophomore guard Keenan Prochazka delivered a one-handed baseline jumper one minute into the quarter for two of his eight points, yet it was the Seahawks only basket in eight attempts to begin the frame.
Four missed shots and a pair of turnovers by the Rams led to an offensive rebound and put-back from Perea and following a 3 from Chris Stepovich, who didn't play in the teams' first meeting, and a one-handed drive from Shayne Gilbertson, Prochazka and Perea combined for four free throws in maintaining a five-point edge.
Rebounding continued to be paramount, though, as Perea put Seward up by four with a free throw and Beck came out of nowhere on the second miss, grabbed the offensive board and put it back in for an insurmountable six-point margin with 53 seconds left.
"Since the halfway point of the season, Dylan Beck's been our X-factor. He has stepped up his game, he has accepted his role and he's really made us a complete team," Krier said. "His offensive board, I tell ya, on that free throw was absolutely amazing. And I thought that was really the key factor finishing the game at the end."
Krier said his squad will need to play better today at 7 p.m. against Nome in the semifinal if the Seahawks plan on advancing to their first state championship game since 1993, when Seward finished second.
"This is one of the games that you definitely have to get out of your system and we're just going to play better tomorrow," Perea echoed. "Nome's going to be a tough game. It's going to be a good game to watch.
"I don't think they're a very good team that can rebound," he added. "So if we beat them on rebounds, I think we'll win the game."
Hey, it worked on Thursday.
Seahawks 57, Rams 50
Monroe 9 18 12 11 --50
Seward 12 15 14 16 --57
MONROE (50) -- L. Stepovich 0 0-0 0, Burcell 5 0-2 14, C. Stepovich 1 0-0 3, Sadler 0 0-0 0, M. Stepovich 4 7-8 16, Gilbertson 2 0-0 4, Sniegowski 5 0-0 13, N. Gavora 0 0-0 0. Totals -- 17 7-10 50.
SEWARD (57) -- Prochazka 3 2-2 8, Price 2 0-2 4, Beck 8 3-5 19, Perea 5 8-11 19, Buchanan 1 0-0 2, Olsen 1 0-0 3, Fleming 1 0-0 2. Totals -- 21 13-20 57.
3-point goals -- Monroe 9 (Burcell 4, Sniegowski 3, C. Stepovich 1, M. Stepovich 1), Seward 2 (Perea, Olsen). Team fouls-- Monroe 22, Seward 13. Fouled out -- L. Stepovich, C. Stepovich, M. Stepovich.
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