MOUNT VERNON — Cedar Rapids Xavier and Dubuque Wahlert played for the Class 3A state championship last year, and here they find themselves again, pitted against each other in a big postseason game.
You can decide how surprising that might be. It’s got to be at least a bit of an eyebrow raiser, judging by records and seeds.
Xavier knocked off second-seeded Mount Vernon, 63-55, Thursday night in a 3A district final at Mount Vernon. The Saints have a 12-11 record, though they played a 4A-dominated schedule in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
Ditto for Wahlert, which shocked top-seeded Davenport Assumption in its 3A district final. The Golden Eagles are just 7-15.
Xavier, of course, is the defending state champ in the class. This all-MVC substate final is Monday night at 6:30 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We feel like we’re really playing our best basketball right now, and we’re excited to be playing Wahlert,” said Xavier swingman Jackson Joens. “They’re a great team, we played them in the state championship game last year. We know they’re going to bring it. It’s going to be a really good game.”
On paper, Xavier was the lower seed here, but the outcome was not really much of a surprise. The Saints were simply better than their undersized opponent, rallying from a first-quarter deficit and eventually creating a comfortable, or at least semi-comfortable, spread.
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Xavier was so balanced offensively, placing all five of its starters in double figures. Joens led the way with 19 points, splashing four 3-pointers from the corner, his absolute favorite spot on the court.
“All credit to my teammates for that. I just had to hit the shots,” Joens said.
“The guys continue to spread the wealth, share the ball,” said Xavier Coach Ryan Luehrsmann. “That starts at the top, that starts with your point guard. We’re blessed to have someone there who is really skilled and plays the position the right way.”
That would be Matt Mims. He played the role of distributor, also finishing with 10 points.
Sophomore guard Quinn Schulte hit five of his six shots in a 14-point night. Nolan Butkowski and center Max Techau added 10 points apiece, with Techau (who had a five-inch size advantage on the interior) adding 11 rebounds.
“We just tried to move the ball better and get open looks, either inside or wide-open kickout 3s,” Schulte said.
Mount Vernon (16-6) played a great first quarter, taking a 15-9 lead. But the Mustangs were only able to score 15 points combined the next two quarters.
Xavier made it tough for senior guard Austin Ash, who still had a game-high 24 points. A recruited walk-on to the University of Iowa, he made only five of his 15 shots.
“We started to challenge the passing lanes a little bit,” Luehrsmann said. “Normally we like to sit back and kind of contain penetration. But we felt like it was important to not just let them reverse the ball side to side in their flex offense, to challenge them a little more. It seemed to wake the guys up, if anything. It may have helped us more on the offensive end than it did on the defensive end, actually.”
Mount Vernon finished 16-7, which is nothing to sneeze at considering its tallest regular was 6-foot-2 and it had to replace so many key members of a good 2015-16 team.
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“Coming into the year, I think we were predicted third or four in the (Wamac) conference,” Ash said. “Nobody really expected a lot of out of us ... We got better every day, as our goal was. Going 16-2 in the conference was the best ever in Mount Vernon history, I think. That’s something to really be proud of. We wanted to come away with a better game than this, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
AT MOUNT VERNON
C.R. XAVIER (63): Nolan Butkowski 3-9 4-4 10, Jackson Joens 7-14 1-2 19, Max Techau 5-7 0-0 10, Quinn Schulte 5-6 4-4 14, Matt Mims 4-8 1-3 10, Bryce Schulte 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Lux 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-44 10-13 63.
MOUNT VERNON (55): Nick Leopold 2-5 0-0 5, Austin Ash 5-15 12-15 24, Jeremy Krogmann 1-3 1-2 3, Zack Krogmann 3-3 0-0 6, Drew Adams 4-8 3-3 11, Cale Snedden 0-2 0-0 0, Blake Booth 2-4 0-0 6, Trenton Baty 0-0 0-0 0, Gabe Golberg 0-0 0-0 0, Ian Bootsmiller 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Wright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-40 17-20 55.
Halftime — Xavier 27, Mount Vernon 23. 3-point goals — Xavier 5-19 (Butkowski 0-5, Joens 4-9, Mims 1-5), Mount Vernon 4-16 (Ash 1-6, Leopold 1-3, J. Krogmann 0-1, Adams 0-1, Snedden 0-1, Booth 2-4). Rebounds — Xavier 23 (Techau 11), Mount Vernon 20 (Leopold 6). Total fouls — Xavier 16, Mount Vernon 14. Fouled out — None. Turnovers — Xavier 10, Mount Vernon 8.
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