LINCOLN — Depth was the difference as No. 1-rated Spalding/Spalding Academy pulled away from No. 7 Leyton for a 68-51 victory Friday in the semifinals of the Class D-2 state tournament at the Pershing Center.
The Warriors, whose normal rotation includes six or seven players, led 22-21 after the first quarter, but couldn't keep pace. The Knights used their superior depth to continually push the tempo, outscoring Leyton by a combined 35-15 margin in the second and third quarters to lead 56-37 heading into the fourth.
“We can go about 11 deep and we don't drop off too much,” Spalding/Spalding Academy coach Joe Imus said. “I saw (Thursday) that Leyton only played about six guys and with the tempo that we play, they got a little fatigued and they got into foul trouble. Ultimately, that really helped us win the game.”
Michael Glaser scored 11 first-quarter points on his way to a team-high 23 and Kyle Bloom finished with 21 points for Spalding/Spalding Academy. The Knights, who have topped the 80-point mark eight times this season and entered the state tournament averaging 70 per game, seem to thrive while playing at a hectic pace.
Trailing 24-21 early in the second quarter, the Knights closed the first half with a 16-4 run to lead 37-28 at halftime. The scoring flurry featured several fast-break baskets, including Glaser's behind-the-back bounce pass to Eric Berger for a layup.
“That's the same tempo we've played all season,” Imus said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but there in the second quarter, it really panned out for us.”
Leyton, which hit 9 of 17 first-quarter field-goal attempts (52.9 percent), shot just 18 percent (4 of 22) in the second and third quarters. The Warriors were also plagued by foul trouble as starters Brennen Cruise and Dylan Brenner had both fouled out with 3:52 still to play.
“They get it out and they run and they're nine or 10 deep and we can't handle nine or 10 deep — we're not that deep,” Leyton coach Gary Oltmann said of the Knights. “We like to push the ball and that's what we've done all year, but we knew these guys would push it harder than we would.
“We thought about trying to slow it way down, but then you don't know what that's going to do to our game.”
Cruise scored a game-high 26 points to lead Leyton (22-2), which will play in Saturday's third-place game at 2 p.m. at Lincoln North Star against No. 4 Falls City Sacred Heart (23-5). Cruise scored the Warriors' first 14 points of the game and finished with 16 in the first quarter.
Splading/Spalding Academy will play for the state title in its first-ever trip to the state tournament as a co-op. The Knights will take on No. 5 Wynot (24-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Devaney Sports Center.
“Our guys have had high expectations all season and one of the goals was to make it to Devaney,” Imus said. “They've been determined. I have seven seniors that our great leaders and they've been pushing each other all season. I just have great kids and they've been working hard all year.”
Spalding/Spalding Academy (25-2)..........................21 16 19 12—68
Leyton (22-2)..................................................22 6 9 14—51
SSA: Brandon Stevens 2, Michael Glaser 23, Kyle Bloom 21, Joseph Glaser 2, Bronc McKay 2, Cain Haschke 9, Eric Berger 5, Tanner Hudson 4.
L: Alex Frerichs 1, Christian Melzer 2, Sam Schumacher 11, Dylan Brenner 4, Brennen Cruise 26, James Rushman 3, Cody McKay 4.
Officials: Brian Grupe, Tim Higgins, Doug Stevenson.
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