By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
The basketball was right where Lucas Laufenberg likes it to be in crunch time — in his hands.
Laufenberg, a 6-foot-2 junior, scored the game’s final five points Thursday night to lead Prince of Peace past Fulton Unity Christian 48-43 in a non-conference boys basketball game at Central Catholic Auditorium.
“We needed a win,” Laufenberg said after the Irish won for the first time this year at home and just the second time overall. “We haven’t figured out how to win yet. We’re getting there. If we start to play better, this can be a turning point.”
Laufenberg had it figured out Thursday, and he created the turning point in the final 90 seconds.
Unity’s Nolan Willoughby had just brought the Knights back with five straight points that tied the game at 43 with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining. But at the other end of the court, Laufenberg made a move down low, tossed in a basket, was fouled and converted the free throw for a three-point play that gave the Irish a 46-43 lead with 1:14 remaining.
“It was big,” Laufenberg said. “We needed a score and were looking to attack the hoop
Laufenberg then sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 19.3 seconds left that gave him a team-high 16 points for the night.
“I enjoy having the ball at the end,” he said.
The big finish made him the hero instead of Willoughby, who led all scorers with 19 points.
Willoughby, a 6-1 sophomore, put himself in contention for the honor when he made a nice move to his left and drained a 3-pointer from the left side that pulled the Knights within 43-41 and then took a dribble in from about the same spot and buried a 16-footer to tie it at 43-43 with 1:29 left.
“In the timeout, coach said we need to get a quick shot, but more important we need to make it,” Willoughby said. “Luckily, my teammates got me the ball, but in the end it didn’t really matter.”
Willoughby’s baskets — and another 3-pointer earlier in the fourth quarter — along with two putback baskets by Colby Dykstra (10 points) had brought the Knights back from a 38-31 deficit at the end of three quarters.
“We came back at the end, but we couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Unity coach Jack Roemer said. “Their kid came down and got a score on us, and we couldn’t answer.”
The real turning point probably came much earlier in the game, however.
A strong start to the second quarter had given the Knights a 25-16 lead.
“Our defense stepped up a bit,” said Willoughby, who made a 3-pointer and four free throws in the 12-2 run that closed the first quarter and started the second. “We started rebounding better than the first quarter, and it didn’t seem like we could miss a shot.”
Unity widened the lead to a high-water mark of nine, 25-16, on a free throw by Sean Hansen with 3:37 left in the second quarter before the Irish closed the half with nine straight points to enter halftime deadlocked at 25.
“That was really important,” Laufenberg said. “We needed to get our momentum back. We were taking possessions off.”
One of the key plays involved Laufenberg and Willoughby.
Moments after Quinton Schnier scored on a follow shot of his own miss, the Irish got the ball back on the defensive end and tried to push the ball ahead on a fastbreak. Unity deflected the ball, and Willoughby tried to save it from going out of bounds under the Prince of Peace basket. He lunged over the endline and knocked the ball backward, but it fell right into the hands of Laufenberg under the basket, and he converted the easy shot to bring the Irish within 25-20.
“That was big; it got us going and was a lucky play,” Laufenberg said.
“Whenever you do something like that, it sucks the life out of you,” Willoughby said. “You learn on Day 1 never save the ball under the opponent’s basket.”
Prince of Peace finished the half with baskets from Nic Roth (14 points) and Warren Lewis, and it went into the locker room tied at 25.
“That was crucial,” Prince of Peace coach Gerry Murphy said. “We needed that comeback to set the tone for the second half.”
The Irish kept attacking to open the second half, extending their scoring run to 16 consecutive points while the Knights missed three straight shots, then committed two turnovers.
Laufenberg got the Irish off to a fast start when he found Roth on a cut down the lane for a go-ahead basket with 6:42 left. Seconds later, Laufenberg took an outlet pass off a defensive rebound and scored in transition. When Lewis added a rebound follow shot and Roth made 1 of 2 free throws, the Irish were sitting on a 32-25 lead with 5:00 left in the quarter.
“It was good to start the second half quick like that,” Laufenberg said.
“In that run, we didn’t get any rebounds, we didn’t get any shots in; overall, we didn’t play well,” Roemer said.
The Knights have no time to lament the loss. They return to action tonight with a home game against Galesburg Christian.
“You can take something out of every game,” Willoughby said. “We learned we need to able to play a full game. We seem to lose the last 2-3 minutes of the game.”
The Irish are off until Tuesday, when they travel to Preston to take on the Big East-leading Trojans.
PRINCE OF PEACE 48, FULTON UNITY CHRISTIAN 43
UNITY — Collin Willoughby 2 0-0 4, Nolan Willoughby 6 4-4 19, Shawn Hintz 1 1-1 3, Sean Hansen 1 3-4 5, Garith Shinkle 0 0-0 0, Colby Dykstra 4 2-3 10, Devin Holesinger 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 10-12 43.
PRINCE OF PEACE — Quinton Schnier 4 0-1 8, Lucas Laufenberg 4 7-13 16, Warren Lewis 3 2-7 8, Caleb Kitteringham 1 0-4 2, AJ Williams 0 0-0 0, Michael Peters 0 0-0 0, Trent Hessing 0 0-0 0, Nic Roth 6 2-4 14. Totals 18 11-29 48.
Unity 12 13 6 12 — 43
Prince of Peace 12 13 13 10 — 48
3-point goals — Unity 3 (N. Willoughby 3); Prince of Peace 1 (Laufenberg). Total fouls — Unity 22, Prince of Peace 14. Fouled out — N. Willoughby.