CEDAR RAPIDS — No one is just going to give them another state championship. Turned out no one was just going to give the Cedar Rapids Xavier Saints another trip to the state tournament.
Class 3A’s top-ranked team had to rally from 10 points down late in the third quarter to outlast South Tama, 59-56, in a thrilling substate final Monday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Survive and advance, which Xavier is doing in quest of a 3A three-peat. Though barely, in this case.
“We have an X on our back every time we go out there,” said Xavier’s Jackson Joens. “They really came out and wanted it. It didn’t seem like we really wanted it in the first half. We regrouped and got the job done. No matter what the score is, as long as you get there, you get there.”
The unbelievable 3-point shooting of South Tama’s Sterling Tyon not only kept his underdog team in this one but helped it build an unbelievable 45-35 lead with three minutes to go in the third. That came on a four-point play, in which Tyon knocked down about a 25-footer and was fouled.
The senior guard finished with seven 3s, most of them from beyond the NBA 3-point arc, and had 25 points.
“The first few, I was like ‘Hmm, somebody ought to guard him,’” said Xavier’s Matt Mims. “He’s tough. As he kept doing it, I knew we had to get in that kid’s face. I think we all thought it would wear off after awhile, but he just kept going.”
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That provided a do-or-die moment for Xavier (18-6), and the Saints did. A flurry of steals helped them cut ST’s lead to 45-43 headed to the fourth.
It was a tied game at 50 going down the stretch. A pair of Gabe Lux free throws put Xavier ahead for what turned out for good, 52-50, with 2:49 remaining, with Joens splashing a huge corner trey to put the Saints up, 57-52, with a minute to go.
“Our kids buckled in and got the stops when they needed to,” said Xavier Coach Ryan Luehrsmann. “It had to be one possession at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself. (Being down 10) was in the third quarter, and we just wanted to get it under single digits, get it to five. The guys really responded, stayed composed, and a lot of that comes from our experience.”
South Tama (15-9) didn’t go quietly. A missed one-and-one gave the Trojans a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds, but Gabe Shields came up short on an open 3-point attempt from the top of the arc.
Xavier missed another one-and-one with three seconds left, but Tyon’s desperation heave from beyond midcourt never had a chance.
“Our kids have the most heart of anybody in the state of Iowa,” said South Tama Coach Dustin Peska. “They give it all they’ve got. I couldn’t be any more proud of them.”
Kyle Moeder led Xavier with 17 points, with Lux adding 10. South Tama’s defensive philosophy of letting someone other than leading scorers Mims and Joens worked well, as the Saints’ big two had 10 and 11 points, respectively.
AT U.S. CELLULAR CENTER
SOUTH TAMA (56): Justus Ward 4-5 0-0 8, Keith Keahna 3-7 5-6 11, Kaiden Buffalo 1-6 0-0 2, Sterling Tyon 8-15 2-2 25, Gabe Shields 5-16 0-1 10, Nathan Lasley 0-0 0-0 0, Lane Koch 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-49 7-9 56.
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CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER (59): Kyle Moeder 7-11 2-3 17, Quinn Schulte 3-4 0-0 6, Jackson Joens 5-9 0-0 11, Gabe Lux 3-9 2-4 11, Matt Mims 3-8 4-4 10, Jacob Beckmann 2-4 0-0 5, Aaron Bartels 0-0 0-0 0, Bryson Bastian 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-45 8-11 59.
Halftime — South Tama 31, Xavier 27. 3-point goals — South Tama 7-18 (Buffalo 0-3, Tyon 7-11, Shields 0-4), Xavier 5-14 (Moeder 1-2, Joens 1-3, Mims 0-1, Lux 2-5, Beckmann 1-3). Rebounds — South Tama 31 (Shields 14), Xavier 19 (Joens 6). Total fouls — South Tama 12, Xavier 13. Fouled out — Moeder. Turnovers — South Tama 11, Xavier 5.
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