CARROLL, Iowa — Coming off a euphoric state football title in November and returning three starters from last year's third-place state basketball finisher, a funny thing happened to the Carroll Kuemper boys.
Nothing in the pre-Christmas portion of this basketball season came easily. Everything was a struggle.
On Tuesday, the Knights took a huge step in the right direction. They put together a sterling defensive effort and found enough offense to knock off Class 3-A No. 1 Harlan Community 46-41 before a boisterous home crowd on Tuesday night.
“We're still trying to get on track, and I think tonight propelled it a little further,” said Kuemper senior Sam Brincks, who had team-highs of 15 points and 13 rebounds. “We're just trying to keep practicing and sculpting our craft.”
Unfortunately for the Knights, the game between the Hawkeye Ten Conference schools did not count in the conference standings. Their game in Harlan on Jan. 31 will. Kuemper, first in The World-Herald's 2-A/1-A ratings, improved to 8-2 overall and remains 4-0 in league play. Harlan, first in the WI 4-A/3-A ratings, dropped to 9-1 and stays 5-0 in the conference.
Kuemper, coming off a 54-48 loss to East Sac County (8-1) on Saturday, held Harlan 27 points below its scoring average.
“We've had some good games defensively, but tonight our communication was big,” Kuemper coach Tyler Edwards said. “We switched our screens and we didn't give them too many open looks.”
Kuemper won on a night in which season scoring leaders and returning All-Western Iowa performers Brincks and Cole Neary combined to shoot 9 of 26 from the field. Senior guard Chase Rupiper contributed 13 points, seven more than his average. Rupiper's steal and layup near midcourt late in the third quarter pushed Kuemper's lead to nine and personified the Knights' defensive effort on the night.
“This is definitely the biggest win of the year for us,” said Rupiper, the team's halfback in football. “We knew we had to come into this game with a chip on our shoulder after the loss Saturday, and we did a great job of that.”
Rupiper's back-to-back 3s in the final minute of the first half sent the Knights bouncing to the locker room, up 24-16. They built the lead to 34-23 late in the third on Neary's putback, but Harlan scored six straight to get within 34-29 with 7:20 left in the game.
Rupiper answered with another key 3 to stem the tide. Kuemper still led 44-36 with 41.1 seconds left when Alex Gunnerson found a wide-open Brincks for a layup against the Cyclone press.
Alex Drees missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Trey Lansman's two free throws got Harlan within 44-41 with 22.5 seconds left. Neary then missed another front end, but Lansman, who finished with a game-high 16 points, was called for his fifth foul on a charge in the lane. Neary's free throws with 13.9 seconds remaining iced the win.
“Give Kuemper tons of credit defensively,” Harlan coach Mitch Osborn said. “We were completely out of sync offensively, particularly the first half. I thought we held the ball too much tonight, not cutting, not moving quick and sharp, with a reason and a purpose.”
Harlan hadn't been severely tested in its first nine games, winning by an average of 28 points. Osborn said that was a factor.
“We really hadn't had a true test,” he said. “But today's Jan. 14. I told our guys that this was a good thing this happened tonight, and not on March 3, our substate game. We've got to grow and learn from it.”
Meanwhile, Kuemper walked out of the gym feeling completely different about itself, conference game or not. Edwards said that coming off football, the tank was a little low early on. That's now changing.
“Once you have that success in football, you kind of have that to fall back on,” Edwards said. “The last week and a half, two weeks, we've really focused in and used our practice time more wisely.”
Harlan (9-1) ......................... 11 5 11 14—41
At Carroll Kuemper (8-2) ..... 12 12 10 12—46
H: Adam Juhl 3-10 0-0 8, Nate Gettys 0-2 0-0 0, Gabe Ferry 3-7 0-0 7, Trey Lansman 6-13 4-6 16, Nathan Cave 2-7 2-6 6, Luke Hall 1-6 0-0 3, Eli Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Will Lansman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-46 7-12 41.
CK: Chase Rupiper 5-7 0-0 13, Alex Drees 0-3 0-1 0, Cole Neary 3-11 2-3 8, Alex Gunnerson 2-5 2-2 7, Sam Brincks 6-15 3-4 15, Nick Greteman 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Hinners 0-0 0-0 0, Cooper Kanne 1-2 0-0 3, Josh Irlbeck 0-1 0-0 0, Adam Schleisman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-44 7-10 46.
3-point goals: H 4-22 (Juhl 2-7, Hall 1-4, Ferry 1-4, Williams 0-1, T. Lansman 0-1, Gettys 0-2, Cave 0-3), CK 5-14 (Rupiper 3-4, Kanne 1-2, Gunnerson 1-2, Drees 0-1, Neary 0-5). Total fouls: H 16, CK 8. Fouled out: T. Lansman. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: H 26 (T. Lansman 6, Ferry 6, Cave 6), CK 32 (Brincks 13). Assists: H 6 (Cave 2), CK 12 (Drees 5). Steals: H 6 (Ferry 3), CK 6 (6 with 1). Turnovers: H 14, CK 15.