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CEDAR RAPIDS — Through the weight of expectations, a tough schedule and some uneven play at times this season, the Cedar Rapids Xavier Saints are right where they want to be.
In position to defend their Class 3A boys’ state basketball championship.
That was assured Monday night with their 58-39 substate final win over Dubuque Wahlert at the U.S. Cellular Center. That 4-9 start to the season has long been forgotten.
This team takes only a 13-11 record to “The Well” in Des Moines. But, rest assured, it will be a very tough out.
“We had to work hard for this one,” said Xavier Coach Ryan Luehrsmann. “But it’s a great group of kids. Even though we were going through some tough times early in the season, I think seven or eight of our first 10 games were on the road. We were playing tough teams in tough environments. We knew at some point we would figure it out. To the credit of the kids, they kept believing, stuck to it night in and night out. We finally had a breakthrough here three or four weeks ago, and we started playing really good ball. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
Xavier has won nine of 11 as it heads to state for the third season in a row. Players said they didn’t really feel like there was a rock-bottom moment to their season that they were able to build up from, though they mentioned the team’s nucleus of point guard Matt Mims, wing Jackson Joens and center Max Techau getting everyone together for a conversation about what needed to be done to turn things around.
“This season has had a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Techau said. “It’s only made us stronger, I think. We sat down and said ‘You know what? If we want to get back to where we want to go, this is what we’ve got to do.’ We did a great job of doing that.”
Techau said he felt improving their overall defense was vital. Joens mentioned sharing the basketball offensively as pivotal.
“There was no way that was going to happen,” Joens said, when asked if he ever felt Xavier wouldn’t make it back to state. “Me, Matt, Techau and all the other guys sat down and were like ‘What do we have to do to get back?’ We talked about it for a long time. And we did it.”
Xavier’s opponent here was a surprise, as Wahlert came in 7-15 after an upset of top-seeded Davenport Assumption in the district finals. After a slow first couple of minutes, Xavier made certain there would be no surprise here, leading by three after a quarter, by six at halftime and by nine after three quarters.
Techau, Joens and Mims had 16 points each, with Techau adding 10 rebounds for a double-double. Wahlert shot just 24 percent from the field, getting a team-high 14 points from Austin Savary.
AT U.S. CELLULAR CENTER
C.R. XAVIER (58): Nolan Butkowski 2-8 0-0 5, Max Techau 6-8 4-10 16, Jackson Joens 6-9 0-0 16, Quinn Schulte 1-4 0-2 2, Matt Mims 4-9 8-13 16, Bryce Schulte 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Lux 0-0 0-0 0, Max Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Spencer Dempewolf 1-1 0-0 3, Jack Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Keating 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Ropp 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-39 12-25 58.
DUBUQUE WAHLERT (39): Peter Timmerman 2-10 5-8 10, Matt Bandy 0-5 2-4 2, Austin Savary 4-12 5-6 14, Craig Collins 1-3 0-2 3, Will Lytem 1-4 1-1 3, Alex Timp 1-5 1-2 3, Jackson Jaeger 1-4 0-1 2, Riley Bohr 0-0 0-0 0, Sam Herrig 0-1 0-0 0, Noah Sigwarth 0-0 0-0 0, Sam Gruhl 1-2 0-0 2, Bruno Onyeukwu 0-0 0-0 0, Jonathan Becker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-46 14-24 39.
Halftime — Xavier 28, Wahlert 22. 3-point goals — Xavier 6-10 (Butkowski 1-3, Joens 4-6, Dempewolf 1-1), Wahlert 3-13 (Timmerman 1-4, Savary 1-3, Collins 1-2, Lytem 0-2, Jaeger 0-1, Herrig 0-1). Rebounds — Xavier 35 (Techau 10), Wahlert 26 (Timmerman, Savary 5). Total fouls — Xavier 20, Wahlert 18. Fouled out — Savary. Turnovers — Xavier 13, Wahlert 9.
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