Notre Dame 'out-toughs' Cape Central in tourney upset

Notre Dame junior Jake Young (21) goes after the ball while on defense near Cape Central's John Brantner (25) and teammates senior Tyler Landewee (2), senior Drew Heisserer (15) and junior Caleb LeGrand (33) during the Notre Dame Bulldogs' 70-54 win over Cape Central Tigers in the semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament on Saturday at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.
Jacob Wiegand ~ Southeast Missourian

Just one day ago, veteran Cape Girardeau Central boy’s basketball coach Drew Church made a definitive statement regarding his then-unbeaten Tigers.

“One thing is, we are going to play harder than anybody that we are playing against,” Church said after watching his team beat Oak Ridge in the quarterfinals of the 75th annual Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament Friday at the Show Me Center. “That can kind of mask some things that you don’t do extremely well.”

Except when they don’t “play harder” than the other team. When that happens, Cape can be exposed, which is exactly what happened Saturday in its 70-54 loss to Notre Dame.

The No. 3-seed Bulldogs (9-2) dominated the No. 2-seed Tigers (9-1) from the opening tip and this game was never in doubt.

Notre Dame will face top-seed Charleston (8-1) Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game, while Cape Central will play No. 4-seed Jackson (5-3) in the third-place game at 6 p.m.

The outcome of this game was decisive for two reasons:

· Cape Central had no answers for the Bulldog match-up zone in the opening half, and

· Notre Dame simply “out-toughed” the Tigers all night long, according to Church.

“Number one,” Church admitted, “I felt like we got out-toughed.”

The Bulldogs scored the game’s initial seven points and held a 14-2 lead before Church relented and called a timeout at the 2:27 mark of the opening quarter.

His team had no semblance of order against the Bulldog defense, which collapsed on every Tiger drive and finished each defensive possession with an authoritative rebound.

“You have to communicate,” Bulldog coach Paul Unterreiner said of his team’s defense. “You have to buy in and you have to play hard.”

The Notre Dame players checked all three of those boxes for all 32 minutes.

Senior guards Tyler Landewee and Drew Heisserer were amazing with their quickness and tenacity.

Landewee pressured the Cape guards into multiple turnovers early, while Heisserer was using his speed to jump passing lanes and get deflections.

“Our guard play was fantastic,” Unterreiner said. “Landewee was as tough as could be. He might have been the MVP for us tonight.”

Landewee was able to drive on the Cape defense and get to the rim on occasion and he did so while playing with an injured elbow.

He had previously broken his elbow and he hit it again Saturday, which Unterreiner said affected his game.

“He hit it pretty good tonight,” Unterreiner said. “I didn’t think we’d get him back (into the game).”

Landewee’s offense was impacted by the ailment, but his heart wasn’t.

Twice in the second half, as the Tigers were trying to rally, he stole the ball from a Cape player following their having rebounded the basketball.

“Tyler set the tempo with his toughness,” Unterreiner said.

Notre Dame led 20-4 early in the second quarter before the Tigers began to find some offense and kept themselves from being completely run out into Sprigg Street.

Cape senior Doreante’ Tucker began to drain 3-pointers (he hit six of them in the second half), but Cape couldn’t get defensive stops, particularly when it came to Notre Dame junior center Caleb LeGrand.

The 6-foot-5 athlete scored 14 of his team-high 20 points after halftime, as the Bulldogs handled the increased defensive pressure by the Tigers with ease.

“We started to make it kind of a crazy, full-court, and fast game,” Church said. “Unfortunately, when you do that, you give up some easy ones.”

Midway through the third quarter, Cape cut its deficit to 35-25, but LeGrand scored five consecutive points and Landewee added another two and this game was essentially finished.

Bulldog reserve forward Chase Logel scored 10 points, while Landewee and Heisserer had nine each.

Notre Dame forward Justice Thoma chipped in 13.

The Bulldog defense contained Tiger guard Tyrus Reddin (11 points), while Tucker finished with 20 points.

The win was the first for the Bulldogs over the Tigers since Feb. 2, 2016, a stretch that included seven consecutive Tiger wins.

It was also the only game of the 22 that have been played in this year’s tournament that had been won by a lower-seed team.

“There are some good teams in this tournament,” Unterreiner said. “It’s a fun tournament to be in. It was an awesome crowd (4,801 attended Saturday) and atmosphere that these kids get to play in on this big stage.”

NOTRE DAME 70, CAPE CENTRAL 54

Notre Dame - 18 15 13 24 - 70

Cape Central - 4 13 16 21 - 54

Notre Dame (70) - Tyler Landewee 9, Drew Heisserer 9, Justice Thoma 13, Jake Young 9, Chase Logel 10, Caleb LeGrand 20. FG 24, FTs 18-29, 3-pointers (Heisserer, Thoma, Young, Logel).

Cape Central (54) - Tyrus Reddin 11, Anthony Mackins 7, Rodlandis Robinson 5, Doreante’ Tucker 20, John Brantner 5, Cameron Williams 3, Dorian Triplett 3. FG 19, FTs 8-17, 3-pointers (Reddin, Mackins, Tucker 6).

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