STRUTHERS - There are times when coaches know the status quo just won't work.
McDonald's Jeff Rasile felt just that way going into Friday night's Division IV district final. His Blue Devils were facing a bigger, more athletic, deeper and, simply put, better team in St. Thomas Aquinas.
So Rasile had to change his game plan, go away from the suffocating full-court press that his teams have been known for. Instead the Devils began without the 90-foot pressure and opted for a gimmick defense - two men playing zone while the other three played man-to-man
Tribune Chronicle / Michael Taylor
McDonald’s Matt Seitz (40) and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Daniel Piero (2) battle for the rebound during their game on Friday night in Struthers.
Just 2 minutes, 15 seconds into the contest, Aquinas coach Matt Hackenberg asked for a time out despite the fact his team was leading by five. He wanted to explain to the Knights what McDonald was doing.
They listened, adjusted and ran the Devils off the floor, 90-48.
"I think the kids were a little uneasy because they weren't sure what was going on," Hackenberg said. "We wanted to get some confidence into them and also talk about how we wanted to attack them."
The Knights scored the next 10 points and led 28-12 at the end of the frame. Point guard Daniel Piero had 10 of his 16 points in the quarter and Aquinas made 6 of 11 from 3-point range.
"The minute we had to come out of the defense, it was over," Rasile said. "Listen, we're not fools. We watched them. We talked to coaches. We knew we couldn't press them. We knew our traps in the half-court set weren't going to work.
"So, we were going to try to do a few things. The only disappointing thing is we told them exactly what to do in that defense and, in the first 3 minutes, we did none of it."
The defense was geared to stop Anthony Moeglin, Austin Hill and Jacob Paul, the Knights' three leading scorers. Ironically, Moeglin had seven points before the Devils switched back to their normal pressure midway through the opening quarter.
"(Moeglin) killed us from the get-go," Rasile said. "He had three offensive rebounds in the first minute and a half and hit a 3-pointer when my guy is supposed to be stopping him from shooting it."
Hill led Aquinas with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Moeglin added 24 and nine. Piero was next in the scoring line followed by Pete Ruthe (11 points). Matt Seitz (19 points) and Ken Greaver (16 points, 11 boards) closed out brilliant careers with the Devils.
The fourth-seeded Knights (15-11), who won a D-III district title one year ago, will play Cornerstone Christian in a regional semifinal Tuesday in Canton. McDonald ended its season with a 21-4 mark.
Aquinas led 45-25 at the half and 71-34 after three quarters. A combination of 24 McDonald turnovers and a 20-8 deficit on the offensive glass allowed the Knights to take 82 shots, 38 more than the Devils.
"We wanted to amp the pressure up right there at the beginning," said Hackenberg about his team attacking the offensive glass. "We were sending most of our guys to the backboard. We identified that as what we thought was the weakness of their team."
Aquinas took an unbelievable 43 3-pointers and made 17, six by Hill and four by Moeglin. Throughout the night different players penetrated the paint only to look outside the 3-point arc for teammates.
According to Moeglin, the Knights thought they could take control of the game early.
"We absolutely felt that way," he said. "Coach had us prepared like none other. He had a great game plan for us."
Rasile said this year's team won more games than he thought it would.
"I honestly thought we might win 16 games or so," he said. "The one thing I hope our kids learned from this experience is how intense you gotta play. These guys haven't bought into that defensive philosophy in two years and it's a shame. But I'm proud of this team. Twenty-one and four is nothing to be ashamed of."