DAVENPORT — Jake Meeske’s buzzer-beating basket gave St. Ambrose a halftime lead Wednesday, but defense and depth gave the Fighting Bees the win.
“We’re playing 10, 11 guys and just getting after people,’’ Meeske said. “It’s making a difference.’’
It certainly did in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference opener at Lee Lohman Arena, where St. Ambrose wore down Trinity Christian, holding the Trolls to 21.2-percent shooting in the second half to pull away to a 79-59 victory.
“Defense is where it started for us,’’ Meeske said. “We were getting stops, extending the lead, then getting more stops.’’
John Kerr, Isaiah Henry and Meeske combined to hit four of the Fighting Bees’ nine 3-point baskets during the opening minutes of the second half.
They grew the St. Ambrose lead from 38-37 at halftime to 56-41 when Kerr connected on his second basket from behind the arc in the half with 14 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the game.
By then, coach Ray Shovlain was keeping fresh bodies on the floor and against an opponent that wore down with three players logging at least 37 minutes of playing time in the league opener for both teams.
“We were able to rotate a lot of guys in, even in the first half, and eventually, I think that turned things in our favor,’’ Shovlain said. “We knew depth could be our advantage and it was.’’
No St. Ambrose player was on the court for more than 26 minutes and nine Bees played at least 14 minutes.
“The guys who were playing hard, those were the guys we stuck with and eventually, I think everybody realized that and we brought a pretty good intensity to it overall,’’ Shovlain said.
Trinity Christian forced the issue during the first half when TJ Lacey buried 3-point baskets on three consecutive possessions, the last putting the Trolls (2-1, 0-1 CCAC) in front 28-24 with just over 6:30 remaining before halftime.
Meeske scored 14 of his game-high 21 points during the first half, including eight points over the final 1:38 of the half to help the Fighting Bees overcome a 36-30 deficit.
His work included a four-point play with :58 to go in the half to tie the game at 36. After TCU had regained a 37-36 lead on a DeAntre DeYoung free throw, the senior who prepped at United Township moved St. Ambrose ahead to stay. His buzzer-beating basket from the top of the key sent the Fighting Bees (3-1, 1-0 CCAC) into the locker room with a 38-37 lead at the break, the launching pad for a strong St. Ambrose effort in the second half.
“It was good to hit a shot and go in with a lead, but it was even better to come out and play the way we did after halftime,’’ Meeske said. “I think everybody settled into things in the second half. First game at home, there were nerves early on, but after halftime we started to play the way we are capable of and it made a difference.’’