Cedar Rapids Kennedy continues successful early regroup, tops Xavier

Cougars head to holiday break 5-2, despite 2 starters quitting team

CEDAR RAPIDS — This was not the game plan.

No one expects to have two starters quit your team one game into the season. But that’s what happened at Cedar Rapids Kennedy, and the Cougars have seemed to work through it just fine.

Further proof was Tuesday night’s 68-56 win over Class 3A second-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier. Some have stepped up to fill the void, others have made the most of opportunities they might not have gotten otherwise, and Kennedy goes into the holiday break feeling pretty good about itself.

A lot better than it did three weeks ago, that’s for sure.

“Losing two guys was different for everyone. Especially because it was two starters,” said Kennedy point guard Jackson Foley. “That was something new for everybody. They’re great people, they’re friends, you hate to see them leave. But it’s something that happens, and you’ve got to move forward. We did that, started figuring out what we had, and we’re playing well as a team right now.”

Kennedy Coach Jon McKowen said he holds no grudges against Ki Jenkins and Keeler Dix, the guys who decided not to play anymore. He’s proud of how his team has stuck together when everything easily could have gone awry.

The Cougars are 5-2 and take a three-game win streak into Christmas.

“The kids faced a little bit of adversity, yeah, but I’m extremely happy with how they’ve dealt with it,” McKowen said. “They processed it a little bit individually, they talked about it. It’s not like we lost them, lost them. They are still our teammates, they just don’t play for us. We still talk to those kids, we still have great relationships with them. They just had things in their life they needed to deal with.”

Kennedy outplayed and outscrapped Xavier (4-2) to take a 30-20 lead into halftime. An example of the latter came late in the second quarter, when players from both teams dove all over the floor, trying to pick up a loose ball near halfcourt.

Kennedy’s Jack Wetzel ended up finally corralling it underneath the Xavier bucket, laying it in for two points. Sophomore Wetzel had a team-high 19 points.

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“We outhustled them, we hit open shots, we all screened for each other, all made each other better,” Wetzel said. “We made the pass when a person was open. Defensively, we always knew where Joens and Mims were. We always got a hand up when they shot. We played help defense a lot, especially when they drove.”

Xavier’s big two of Jackson Joens and Matt Mims struggled from the field, combining to make just seven of 26 shots. Mims had a game-high 22 points, but 14 of those came from the free-throw line, many of them late.

Finding a third scorer to complement them will be one of Coach Ryan Luehrsmann’s main priorities when things kick back up in the new year. Xavier lost to Kennedy and Waterloo West the final week of the pre-holiday portion of its schedule.

“I’m not really concerned, yet,” Luehrsmann said. “Those are two pretty good teams. Teams that are tough to match up with for different reasons. Honestly, I thought we’d struggled early. The 3-0 start that we had was not maybe expected from me ... The big picture is being 4-2 going into the break, and we’re OK with that. But it’d be a lot better to be 6-0 or 5-1, because we certainly had the capability to do that.”

AT C.R. XAVIER

C.R. KENNEDY (68): Jack Wetzel 7-12 2-2 19, Derrick Diggins 4-8 4-5 12, Ethan Sailer 2-2 0-0 4, Jackson Foley 3-9 6-6 13, Grant Griffin 3-6 5-8 12, Benjamin Koester 0-1 0-0 0, Justin DeCoste 0-0 0-0 0, Cole Werling 0-1 0-0 0, Trey Sheets 0-7 8-8 8, Michael Watkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-46 25-29 68.

C.R. XAVIER (56): Quinn Schulte 1-1 0-0 2, Kyle Moeder 3-4 0-0 7, Jackson Joens 3-10 5-5 11, Matt Mims 4-16 14-17 22, Gabe Lux 3-4 0-0 9, Jacob Beckmann 2-6 0-0 5, Aaron Bartels 0-0 0-0 0, Davis Wagner 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Ropp 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-42 19-22 56.]

Halftime — Kennedy 30, Xavier 20. 3-point goals — Kennedy 5-16 (Wetzel 3-4, Diggins 0-2, Foley 1-1, Griffin 1-3, Koester 0-1, Sheets 0-4), Xavier 5-20 (Moeder 1-2, Joens 0-4, Mims 0-8, Lux 3-4, Beckmann 1-2). Rebounds — Kennedy 31 (Sailer 8), Xavier 24 (Joens 7). Total fouls — Kennedy 19, Xavier 25. Fouled out — Beckmann. Turnovers — Kennedy 11, Xavier 14.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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