SHULLSBURG – Following what Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman dubbed the “Christmas debacle” at the Mike Alexander Tournament, the Miners have been working hard to improve one area of their game– defense.
And, Lierman’s squad showed that all their hard work has paid off after posting three impressive victories against three quality opponents over a span of seven days to work their way back towards the .500 mark for the season, and– hopefully- back into the race for the Six Rivers West title.
Back-to-back conference wins over frontrunners Potosi, 52-49, last Tuesday and Highland, 61-48, last Friday moved the Miners’ record to 3-2 in league play, and their come-from-behind win over Monticello, 59-47, on Monday night improved them to 5-7 on the season.
“I don’t know if they believed in themselves (earlier in the year) as much as I believed in them. I think they are starting to see that they can do some good things if they play together,” commented Coach Lierman.
The Chieftains still lead the SRW at 4-1, but there is a log-jam behind them with Cassville at 4-2, followed by Benton, Highland and Shullsburg all at 3-2.
Defense was definitely the catalyst for Shullsburg against Highland on Friday the 13th as the only scary thing about the night was how fast the Miners turned momentum in their favor following a slow start.
With Shullsburg mired in a shooting slump early in the second quarter, the Cardinals (5-6, 3-2) were able to open up a 13-5 advantage until a steal and coast-to-coast layup by senior Nate Carrier lit a fire under the Miners.
Junior point guard Pierce Russell followed with a 3-pointer and another layup off a steal for the Miners, and junior guard Collin Hauser added a 3-point basket and a 2-point basket to put the Miners into the lead at 19-16.
“We talked about turning up the defensive intensity. Once we started doing that, we got some steals which turned into layups and that turned the momentum in our favor. That was good to see,” said Lierman.
Back-to-back baskets by Reid Schwartz at the end of the first half upped the Miners’ lead to five points at the intermission, and the hosts charged out of the locker room with a 13-6 run to start the third quarter to build up a 38-24 lead.
Highland cut the deficit down to nine on a couple occasions in the second half, but the Miners put the game away at the foul line in the fourth quarter by converting 11 of their 17 foul shots to sink the Cardinals for the ninth straight time.
“We made our free throws and took care of the ball. I’m really happy for the guys and proud of them for fighting through it,” Lierman noted.
Russell led four Miners in double figures with 13 points, while Carrier and Hauser chipped in with 12 apiece and Schwartz finished with 10 on the night.
Carrier also had three steals, and Schwartz led the team with six rebounds and two assists.
Nic Pierick poured in a game-high 20 points and Alex Kutzke added 10 for Highland, which is coached by former Shullsburg player and assistant coach Chad Paquette.
At Potosi, on Tuesday, Jan. 10, the Miners handed the league-leading Chieftains their first loss of the conference season by rallying from behind in the fourth quarter to stun the hosts, 52-49, at the wire.
The Miners converted a pair of layups off steals to erase a late Potosi lead, and junior guard Kyle Hoppman hit a pair of clutch free throws with 13 seconds remaining to give the Miners a 52-49 lead.
The Chieftains had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation, but the shot was off the mark.
“Potosi is such a tough place to play and they’re very good this year. What I liked is we kept battling and kept chipping away until we took the lead late,” said Coach Lierman.
Pierce Russell led a balanced Miner attack with 16 points, while Hoppman came up with nine points and nine rebounds for the guests. Nate Carrier added eight points and three assists, and Jacob Scott tallied seven points and two steals in the win.
Hunter Liebfried led Potosi with 20 points and Spencer Hawes scored 10.
At Shullsburg, on Monday, Jan. 16, the Miners outscored visiting Monticello in the second half, 34-20, to rally past the Ponies for a 59-47 non-conference victory.
Pierce Russell had a big all-around night with 13 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Jacob Scott added 10 points six rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Miners, while sophomore center John Meyer hit for a season-high 10 points and pulled down six rebounds on the night.
Shullsburg is in the midst of a seven-game homestand. They will host River Ridge on Thursday, Jan. 19, and Belmont on Tuesday, Jan. 24, in SRW action.
Highland…… 6 12 11 19 - 48
Shullsburg… 4 19 15 23 - 61
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 13, Nate Carrier 12, Collin Hauser 12, Reid Schwartz 10, Jacob Scott 7, John Meyer 5, Jacob Meyer 2.
Shullsburg… 8 15 13 16 - 52
Potosi.…..…. 13 7 17 12 - 49
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 16, Kyle Hoppman 9, Nate Carrier 8, Jacob Scott 7, John Meyer 6, Reid Schwartz 4, Collin Hauser 2.
Monticello…. 15 12 14 6 - 47
Shullsburg… 19 6 22 12 - 59
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 13, Jacob Scott 10, John Meyer 10, Kyle Hoppman 9, Nate Carrier 6, Reid Schwartz 6, Collin Hauser 5.