LAGRANGE — No excuses, just no ability to make a clutch free throw.
Inexperienced Keystone had every opportunity to put away a Division I opponent Wednesday, then did everything wrong in the fourth quarter — particularly at the free throw line — and lost 56-44 to Cloverleaf in non-league action.
Led by seniors Robby Buckwald (22 points, eight in fourth quarter) and Brandt Buckholz (season-high eight points), the Colts (2-8), who snapped an eight-game losing streak, outscored the Wildcats (2-6) 21-4 in the fourth quarter, when Cloverleaf did not commit a turnover, made 9 of 12 free throws and held Keystone without a field goal.
“These guys have been playing basketball their whole lives,” said first-year Wildcats coach Jeff Holzhauer, who started two freshmen and brought two sophomores off the bench. “I don’t care what level it is. It’s basketball. It’s the want to win and I didn’t see that.
“Yeah, we’re young, but these kids have been playing a lot of basketball, so I’m not going to use the youth as an excuse. Sometimes they look for leadership and they look to one another instead of looking at themselves.”
For the better part of three quarters, Keystone was on the verge of pulling away, yet couldn’t because of free throw shooting. The Wildcats were 4-of-15 in the fourth quarter — they missed 13 of their last 17 and made just 12-of-32 overall — to go with six bricked field goals and five turnovers.
This opened the door for the Colts, who knocked it down with authority. Cloverleaf scored 14 of the game’s final 16 points and never trailed once the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Buckwald, a Toledo football recruit, hit a contested pick-and-pop 3-pointer off a dish from Buckholz, who added four points and a steal in the fourth.
A steal and score by Cliff Collyer (nine points, five rebounds, three steals) put the Colts up 47-42 before Buckwald and Adam Podolak went on a 4-0 mini-spurt at the free throw line to seal the deal.
“We made a couple turnovers and got down five, and I didn’t see a lot of fight in our kids,” Holzhauer said.
For as inept as Keystone was in the fourth quarter, it was equally as efficient over the first 24 minutes.
Using a patient, set-heavy offense designed to get mid-range looks or inside buckets for center Adam Hopkins (nine points), the Wildcats went on a 9-point swing when Collyer and teammate Brandon Johnson (seven points, three assists) were on the bench to end the half up 26-22.
Unfortunately for them, the free throw struggles began to rear their ugly head. Keystone missed five straight from the line while holding a lead of three or more points.
Senior power forward Chase Robinson and junior backup guard Collin Fitzgerald each had 10 points and Adam and C.J. Conrad combined for seven assists, but Holzhauer remained unsatisfied with his team’s fourth-quarter leadership — not to mention putting a dent in its already sub-.500 season percentage at the line.
“We have a lot of issues we have to figure out,” he said. “I had a lot of confidence going into the game and I had a lot of confidence in the second quarter, but some of the things we stand by — playing defense, rebounding, taking care of the basketball, playing together — just didn’t happen (in the fourth quarter).”
Cloverleaf 56, Keystone 44
CLOVERLEAF (56): Adam Podolak 1-2-4, Robby Buckwald 7-5-22, Jayson Sykora 0-0-0, Brandon Johnson 2-3-7, Cliff Collyer 3-3-9, Brandt Buckholz 4-0-8, Tom Wangler 0-0-0, Ryan O’Callaghan 1-2-4, Connor Ploucha 1-0-2, Brady Kotlarek 0-0-0. TOTALS: 19-15-56.
KEYSTONE (44): Matt Bastock 2-0-4, Chase Robinson 2-6-10, Adam Hopkins 2-5-9, Brandon Kuhl 2-1-5, Austin Conrad 0-0-0, C.J. Conrad 3-0-6, K.J. Williams 0-0-0, Collin Fitzgerald 4-0-10. TOTALS: 15-12-44.
Cloverleaf 13 9 13 21 — 56
Keystone 11 15 14 4 — 44
Three-point goals: Cloverleaf 3-11 (Buckwald 3), Keystone 2-8 (Fitzgerald 2). Field goals: Cloverleaf 19-42 (45.2 percent), Keystone 15-37 (40.5 percent). Free throws: Cloverleaf 15-21 (71.4 percent), Keystone 12-of-32 (37.5 percent). Rebounds: Cloverleaf 22 (Buckwald 8), Keystone 20 (C. Conrad 6). Assists: Cloverleaf 10 (Johnson 3), Keystone 7 (A. Conrad 4). Turnovers: Cloverleaf 9, Keystone 14. Junior varsity: Keystone 42, Cloverleaf 24.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.