Notre Dame vs. Cape Central Notes: Bulldog post is budding talent

Notre Dame junior Caleb LeGrand (33) pauses before a free throw during the Bulldogs' 70-54 win over Cape Central in the semifinals of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament on Saturday at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.
Jacob Wiegand ~ Southeast Missourian

Notre Dame stunned many of the 4,801 fans at the Show Me Center Saturday for the semifinals of the 75th annual Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament when it pummeled the two-time defending champion, Cape Girardeau Central, 70-54.

Veteran Tiger coach Drew Church spoke afterward about his team being “out-toughed,” by the Bulldogs – and it was. However, there was beauty in the play of Notre Dame center Caleb LeGrand as much as there was toughness.

“He’s got good hands around the basket,” Bulldog coach Paul Unterreiner said of his 6-foot-5 junior post player. “We’re trying to continue to improve on that.”

It will be a task for LeGrand to get much better than he appeared Saturday.

In an age when every center wants to be a guard, LeGrand plays with the finesse and touch in the paint reminiscent of former Boston Celtic great Kevin McHale.

He can spin off of a defender and rotate the ball off the backboard or he can arc a jump hook straight over a flailing defender.

He scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half, as the Tigers were valiantly trying to get back into the game.

“He’ll tell you himself,” Unterreiner said, “he is nowhere close to his potential.”

What hinders LeGrand mostly is that he is a phenomenal athlete in multiple sports, each of which takes up his time.

He set two school records as part of relays and qualified for the MSHSAA State Swim Meet last month and Unterreiner added that “He’s a heckuva volleyball player.”

“When we get him for basketball,” Unterreiner said, “we get him for basketball and work on things. If push comes to shove, he could become a really dynamic player in a hurry.”

LeGrand not only is effective offensively, but he is also incredibly impactful at the defensive end.

His volleyball skills show, as he has length and ability to time blocks, often without fouling.

“Every shot,” Unterreiner said of LeGrand’s impact. “It doesn’t matter how many shots he blocks, he is affecting double-digit shots (by altering them).”

LeGrand looks svelte with his lanky frame, but the swim training has built a strength that showed Saturday.

He often was defending Tiger posts Cameron Williams (6-foot-6 and a Cape football player) or Dorian Triplett (a 240-pound Cape football player) and he more than held his own.

“I was proud of how he battled tonight,” Unterreiner said. “I was worried about the match-up with Triplett. I thought he held his own.

“He played a ‘big-boy’ game for us. We needed him big time and he provided that.”

A positive negative

Cape Central has won three of the past four Christmas Tournaments and each of the last two, but Church said he was going to make the most of this defeat over the next few days.

“A loss is not always a bad thing,” Church said.

He was quick to credit Notre Dame (“They played fantastic,” Church said), but was disappointed in the fact that the Bulldogs beat his team to “50-50 balls” and rebounds, which will be a point of emphasis as he works his team today in preparation for Monday’s match-up with Jackson in the third-place game (6 p.m.).

“We’d guard for a while, come down with the rebound, and they’d steal it from us,” Church said. “Little stuff like that happened.”

The loss not only ended Cape’s reign over this tournament, but it also snapped a seven-game win streak over Notre Dame.

“Our guys will take this to heart,” Church said. “I know our guys. We’ll be better for this. And we are very blessed that we get to play in two days again.”

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