RIPON –Luke Loewe kept telling his teammates in the huddle that they were going to get defensive stops late in the fourth quarter to give Ripon a chance to win the game.
And when Eddie Muench hit a game-tying 3-pointer with one minute left in regulation, Loewe decided to take matters into his own hands.
With Freedom trying to hold for the last shot, Loewe stole the ball at midcourt and, after being fouled, hit two free throws with 14 seconds left and Ripon survived in the final seconds to rally for the 48-46 victory over the Irish in a pivotal Eastern Valley Conference boys basketball game Tuesday night.
“Our team believed in ‘team,'” coach Dean Vander Plas said. “I’ve said Luke Loewe is one of the best players in Wisconsin, especially in Division 3, and he made plays and then Eddie knocked down some huge shots for us, especially the one late to tie it up. Our kids just believed we could get stops.”
Loewe finished with a game-high 27 points, Muench added 13 and Riley Haas chipped in with eight for the Tigers (18-2, 13-1 EVC). They were the only three players to score for Ripon tonight.
“We realize that we’re going to handle a lot more of the scoring since Ben (Vander Plas) is out, I mean 16 points per game is hard to recover (from) but we did a good job tonight,” Muench said.
The win keeps the Tigers in a tie for first place in the EVC with Xavier. The two will face off Friday night in Appleton.
As the fourth quarter started, most of the Tiger faithful weren’t sure that would be the case.
Ripon trailed by four entering the fourth quarter, but a one-footed, highlight reel three-point play in the lane from Muench and a layup from Loewe gave Ripon a 41-40 advantage just one minute into the period.
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Freedom’s Brett Schommer made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 43, then Andrew Connelly drilled a 3-pointer to give the Irish a three-point advantage with a little over two minutes left.
Then Freedom, who only had six turnovers in the game, began to get sloppy with the ball.
Loewe poked the ball away from an Irish ball handler outside the arc, and after Hunter Merrill controlled possession Ripon called timeout with 1:39 left in the game.
Following the timeout, Muench, who was just 1-for-6 from 3 before his final attempt, came off a Merrill screen, took a pass from Loewe and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie things up at 46.
“Right when he came off (the screen) I knew he was going to hit that,” Loewe said of Muench.
The Irish appeared content to hold the ball and take the last shot of regulation, but with only three team fouls Loewe decided to get aggressive.
After his man passed the ball to the left wing, he and Haas double-team the ball handler and Loewe stripped the ball. He corralled the basketball, drove all the way to the rim and was fouled with 14 seconds left.
“I just knew a foul was coming so I had to get to the basket as fast as I possibly could,” Loewe said with a grin.
Loewe knocked down both free throws, and after Ripon fouled Freedom twice in the final 14 seconds, the Irish’s last-ditch 3-point attempt never drew iron and the Tigers held on for a wild victory.
Freedom had three of its six turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t take care of the ball in the fourth quarter,” Freedom coach John Van Rossum said. “If we take care of the basketball we walk out of here with a win.”
There were eight ties and 15 lead changes in the game, including nine lead changes in the opening quarter. The biggest lead by either team was six points late in the third quarter when Freedom grabbed a 40-34 advantage.
Neither team played much defense in the first quarter, and Haas’ tip-in at the buzzer gave Ripon an early 17-15 lead after one.
The Tigers led by as many as five in the second quarter after a Muench 3-pointer, but Freedom responded with a 9-1 run to take a 28-25 lead. Loewe then hit a 3 late in the quarter to tie the game going in at halftime.
Hofacker finished with 15 points and Brett Schommer added 14 for Freedom.
Freedom…15 13 12 6—46
Ripon…17 11 8 12—48
Freedom : Hofacker 15, Connelly 7, B. Schommer 14, E. Schommer 4, Maulick 2, Brickner 4. 3-pointers: 2 (B. Schommer, Connelly). FT: 6-8. Fouls: 10.
Ripon : Loewe 27, Muench 13, Haas 8. 3-pointers: 5 (Loewe 2, Muench 2, Haas). FT: 9-11. Fouls: 12.
Jake Van Camp: (920) 426-6659 or jvancamp@the northwestern.com
Little Chute…8-6 12-8
Fox Valley Luth…5-9 5-15
Ripon at Xavier
Freedom at Waupaca
Little Chute at Winneconne
Clintonville at FVL
For more photos and video from the game, go to thenorthwestern.com.