Woodlan's Kaden Gerig tried to bring the Warriors back against Bluffton in the ACAC Tournament final. With Woodlan trailing by 20 in the fourth quarter, the junior started knocking down shots. Almost every time down the court Woodlan looked for him and no matter where he was he put up a three and hit it.
In total, he would hit five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and score 23 points in the game to bring Woodlan all the way back to a 6-point deficit with a little over a minute remaining, but it wasn't enough. Bluffton (9-4) took home back-to-back ACAC Tournament titles with its 66-58 victory over Woodlan (8-6) at Memorial Coliseum Saturday morning.
“We knew (Gerig) could shoot because we watched him against Leo and he made the game-winning three basically against Leo,” said Bluffton's Jackson Lambert, who lead the Tigers with 20 points. “So we knew he had that potential, so we were kind of keeping our eye on him, and once he got hot, we were like we have to get on him.”
Gerig's near-heroics were needed because Bluffton had essentially eliminated Woodlan's offense the first three quarters. Bluffton held a 47-28 lead heading into the fourth due to a zone defense forcing long shots and collapsing anytime Woodlan sent the ball inside.
“The thing about (Bluffton), you don't want to get down to them,” Woodlan head coach David Randall said. “If you get down three to four possessions, it's tough, and we did come out flat. We didn't handle their zone very well, and I don't know, they played zone to make us stand around and that's exactly what happened.”
The early Bluffton dominance setup the flurry from Woodlan in the fourth quarter. Trailing by 20, Gerig would hit two 3-pointers and come up with a steal and fastbreak layup as part of an 11-0 Woodlan run to pull within nine with 4:40 left. Bluffton seemed to withstand this rally, though, pushing the lead back out to 14 until Woodlan and Gerig made its final push.
Gerig made three more 3-pointers coupled around a few buckets from Woodlan to make it 60-54 with 1:01 remaining the game. Bluffton made a few free throws to build the lead back to eight, before Gerig launched another three with 50 second left. But this time, it wouldn't fall through the net, and Bluffton closed out the game over by making free throws and a critical steal and layup.
With the late Woodlan rally, Bluffton head coach Kevin Leising was pleased his team had built such a large lead.
“I say it all the time, the rest of the game is more important than the end of the game,” Leising said. “All those things we did well (earlier in the game) got us the 20-point lead”
Gerig's fourth quarter shooting wasn't the only impressive thing Saturday, though. Bluffton's Chandler Prible battled being sick and coughing on the sideline due to an illness all game. Leising said he tried to tell Prible multiple times to come out the second half, but the senior kept telling him no.
Playing through the illness, Prible helped build Bluffton's early lead, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the first half. Prible's play in the final and throughout the tournament earned him the Hilliard Gates Tournament MVP as he finished with 45 points, 15 assists, 16 rebounds and seven steals over Bluffton's three games.
“It's really a tribute to my teammates, I couldn't do it without them,” Prible said of being named MVP. “They get me open. I couldn't do it without them.”
The win gave Bluffton back-to-back ACAC Tournament titles and its fifth title in six years.
“It's just so much of a family,” Leising said. “They are talking five championships in six years or 10 championships in 15 years, I can't keep track of all of them. And you know what, that's nice because when you can't even count how many there are, that's a tremendous testimony to the people in our program, the players in our program and the community that backs us so much.”
BLUFFTON 66, WOODLAN 58
Woodlan 7 8 13 30 - 58
Bluffton 13 17 17 19 - 66
Woodlan: White 5, Lortie 2, McGettigan 13, Gerig 23, Burden 1, Mendenhall 2, Stieglitz 2, Bennett 10.
Bluffton: G. Prible 1, Sturgeon 12, C. Prible 19, Lambert 19, Moser 3, Pearson 8, Garrett 4.