CEDAR RAPIDS — A pair of 2017 state champions served notice Thursday night that they are ready to defend their crowns.
Iowa City West and Cedar Rapids Xavier, last year’s 4A and 3A titlists, went back and forth at Ron Thillen Gymnasium. In the end, it was the defensive pressure of the Trojans that proved to be the difference in a 54-49 West triumph in the Mississippi Valley Conference finale for both teams.
The win moved West, ranked No. 3 in 4A, to 17-3 overall, 14-2 in the MVC. Xavier, ranked No. 1 in 3A, closes the regular season at 15-6, 10-6.
West Coach Steve Bergman wasn’t surprised by the grind-it-out type of game the two teams played.
“Hey, you look at (Xavier’s) scores, they are beating people,” he said. “A year ago, they won a state tournament with two or three more losses so they are a good team. They showed that the whole game.”
Xavier led by as many as seven points in the second half, but couldn’t quite hold off the Trojans.
Senior guard Matt Mims was brilliant, finishing with a game-high 25 points despite being guarded some of the game by West’s 6-foot-8 Patrick McCaffery.
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Xavier held a 40-35 lead entering the fourth quarter, but could manage only two field goals over the final eight minutes.
West took the lead for good with just under three minutes to play. A pair of Dante Eldridge free throws with 14 seconds remaining pushed the lead to three. Xavier had a final chance to tie, but Mims’ long 3-point attempt was blocked with five seconds remaining, allowing West to escape with the win.
“Our defense was great in the fourth quarter,” Bergman said. “We found a couple of favorable 1-on-1 matchups and we got to the rim a little bit. This was a game of two teams really fighting hard.”
McCaffery led West with 19 points, 14 coming in the second half. Jackson Joens joined Mims in double figures for Xavier, finishing with 12.