By Tom Schultz
For the Herald
FULTON, Ill. —
Led by their bench, the Fulton Steamers put together their fifth straight win to open the 2013-14 season with a 47-35 win over the River Ridge Wildcats in their home opener.
River Ridge got out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first three minutes, but the Steamers had the magic touch early from behind the arc. In quick succession, Kyle Huebner sank a 3-pointer to tie the game and then Matt Dail hit one from deep behind the line to give Fulton a 6-3 lead. Jake Willging followed with a twisting drive to the basket, drawing the foul as his shot fell. Willging made the free throw for the three-point play and put the Steamers up 9-3 in no time at all.
After that it was a bit of a different night for the Steamers on offense as they made only one more 3-pointer on the night when Zach Barber nailed one from the perimeter in the second half.
“They had us out of our sorts. We just got to get back to work and we got to work on dealing with pressure, being better with pressure,” Fulton coach RJ Coffey said about the challenges that River Ridge posed on defense.
The Steamers adapted to the full-court pressure the Wildcats were putting on them, using a spread-out defense to their advantage on fastbreaks and in transition. Guards Seth Sanderson, Barber, Devin Kuehl and Kody Crosthwaite moved the ball up the court quickly and found open teammates up the court for high-percentage shots around the paint and layups from the baseline.
Fulton drove to the basket much more against River Ridge than it had in its other four wins this season, finding success and building confidence in its skills close to the basket. The spark for the inside game came in late in the second quarter when Kuehl came off the bench and got an outlet pass on the right and drove hard to the basket against taller defenders and took the foul. His confidence and success getting into the lane showed his teammates that they could do the same thing, which they did in the second half.
“I think we felt a lot more confident tonight,” Fulton senior Matt Dail said. “We started to work the ball inside a little bit, get a little inside looks and then our threes started falling gets some confidence built up because of the inside looks.”
Kuehl’s performance, which included two points and four rebounds off the bench, was only one of many highlights that the Steamers’ reserves provided in the win. Jason Osbourn has thrived coming off the bench and led Fulton in the second half. Osbourn put up eight of his 10 points in the final two quarters and ripped down all seven of his rebounds in the second half as well.
Osbourn’s timing was impeccable.
“Our bench was very good tonight. Jason Osbourn was phenomenal, especially in the fourth quarter,” Coffey said. “It seemed like he was pulling down every big board; he had a couple big jumpers there at the end.”
To start the fourth quarter, the Steamers played sloppy on offense, turning the ball over three straight times at one point and seeing their double-digit lead reduced to five before Coffey was forced to call a timeout.
“Tonight we played fast, but we played sloppy,” Coffey said.
Osbourn came in after the timeout, and suffocating defense made a difference right away as he ripped down a defensive board and came back on the same possession with a jumper from the free-throw line.
“The coaches told me to, when I get in there to box this kid out, get in there box them out, get the board, get it to the point guard and get it done, and I did exactly that,” he said.
Dail and Barber grabbed a couple of steals and within seconds, Barber was at the line after drawing the foul and making the shot sank the free throw for the three-point play and a 12-point lead for the Steamers.
The Steamers bench was invaluable in the win as everyone who got time on the court contributed. In addition to Kuehl’s and Osbourn’s performances, Crosthwaite had a couple of assists and Paul Velasco ate up some time for the Steamers, adding two points in the paint and two rebounds.
“Those guys are athletes. When they come in we want them to run the floor, push the pace and that’s exactly what they do,” Coffey said.
The score got a little too close for comfort for the Steamers in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t lose their confidence and closed out the Wildcats.
“We’re going play some tight games this year and we’ve got to be able to close them and get the win,” Dail stated.
FULTON 47, RIVER RIDGE 35
RIVER RIDGE – Durr 2 2-2 6, Crist 4 5-9 13, Klepack 3 1-1 8, Watcher 1 0-2 2, Merkle 3 0-4 6. Totals 13 8-18 35.
FULTON – Matt Dail 3 1-2 8, Jake Wilging 2 1-1 5, Devin Kuehl 1 0-2 2, Zach Barber 3 3-3 10, Seth Sanderson 1 1-3 3, Jason Osbourn 5 0-0 10, Kyle Huebner 2 2-2 7, Velasco 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 8-13 47.
River Ridge 11 4 7 12 – 35
Fulton 15 7 12 12 – 47
3-point goals — River Ridge 1 (Klepack); Fulton 3 (Dail, Barber, Huebner). Total fouls — River Ridge 13, Fulton 18. Fouled out — Crist. Technical foul — Fulton bench.