RENSSELAER — Class A No. 4 Kouts was faced with quite a predicament at Rensselaer Central Saturday night.
The Mustangs lost their leading scorer, junior guard Cole Wireman, who finished with a career-high 46 — yes, 46 — points, to foul trouble …
RCHS had the ball with under a minute left trailing just 72-71 …
And only Wireman had scored a point in the fourth quarter to that point so somebody else had to take charge.
That player became junior Hunter Kneifel, who had a steal and a lay-up and added two free throws with 12.5 seconds left to secure a 76-73 win for Kouts.
Kneifel’s steal put momentum back on his team’s side with 37 seconds showing. RCHS senior guard Alex Gull was looking to get the ball to junior slashing guard Josh Fleming but short-armed his pass. Kneifel stepped into the passing lane for the steal and scored on the other end for a 74-71 lead.
The Bombers, who played without starting point guard Noah Bierma due to an illness, did get two points back on Jacob Hillan’s rebound and putback of his own miss at the rim with 13.9 seconds showing. But Kneifel was fouled on an in-bounds pass on the Bombers’ end of the floor with 12.5 seconds left.
He hit both free throws of the double bonus to give his team a three-point cushion.
Rensselaer did have two good looks at the basket in the final seconds, including a 3-point attempt by sophomore Brody Chamness at the buzzer that kicked off the side of the rim.
“We drew it up so that we had five different options,” Bombers coach Chad Pulver said of the game’s final sequence. “The reality was we adapted. They pushed us to the left and our guys adjusted the whole play. Brody got the shot up and when he missed it we still got the ball back out. It was best we could have hoped for going full-court in 12 seconds and needing a three.”
The win pushed Kouts’ record to 11-0. It was the closest finish for the Mustangs since Kankakee Valley lost by four points in overtime on Dec. 7.
“They got to the basket way too many times,” said Kouts coach Kevin Duzan. “I was forced to go zone because of foul-trouble issues and we didn’t understand that because we haven’t really zoned this year. Our defense was really not what it’s been all year.”
Talk after the game, however, was the scoring display put on by Wireman, who shares backcourt duties with twin brother Cale.
Cole hit 16 of 27 shots from the floor and was 10 of 10 from the foul l ine. He added five rebounds and three assists.
“He has the ability to score the basketball, and we needed it tonight, obviously,” Duzan said. “At the same time, he made some bad decisions, getting the charge for his fifth foul. It was that line where, yeah, I can get to the basket and I can score but what’s better for my team right now? But he’s awfully good.”
Cole Wireman scored many of his points on driving lay-ups, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and 14 more in the second. He hit all four of his team’s 3-point baskets and had 15 points in the fourth quarter before fouling out.
Cole felt the Bombers couldn’t double-team him because of the scoring ability of the other players on the floor.
“It’s great to have five guys on the floor who can score,” he said. “If they focus on me one night, we have other guys who can score in double figures. It looks good on me, but our team, they help because they can score the ball as well.”
Watching the final minute being played out without him on the floor proved excruciating for Wireman.
“It was tough, but I truly had faith in my brothers out there,” he said. “It’s tough to sit the bench when you knew you were on fire. I thought I let them down at the end.”
Pulver said his team had a game plan to slow down Kouts’ point guard to no avail.
“We push guys a certain direction and we knew where he was going to go,” he said. “The problem was our help-side didn’t slip over and take away that finish. He’s going to shoot that shot. The difference is when you step out of that block and you’re in front of him, he has to shoot over. What we would do is come in late, he would jump and we would foul. He made his shots. And he was 10 for 10 at the line, so when he went to the line, he still made us pay.”
Only Hunter Kneifel, whose twin brother Parker Kneifel plays the other forward spot, had double figures in support of Cole. He finished with 13 points, including four big points in the game’s final 37 seconds.
Gull — who was crowned the 2020 Mr. Bomber at halftime — had a team-best 20 points for RCHS, which falls to 4-6.
Gull had 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to keep his team within range of the upset. Teammate Fleming added 19 points, with 14 coming in the second half, and Hillan had one of his best games with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Rensselaer held a pair of one-point leads in the first half but failed to take the lead in the second half. Kouts outscored the Bombers, 18-8, at one point in the third period to take a 57-45 lead.
“We had a really rough spot in that second half,” Pulver said. “It was like the energy dropped for a couple of seconds and our guys were still able to gather themselves back up and fight to get back in the game.”
Kouts held a 31-24 rebounding edge, with Hunter Kneifel and Connor McCormick — the lone senior on the team — collecting nine boards each.
“Our rebounding wasn’t at strong as we needed to be,” Pulver said. “We were standing and trying to out-reach them, which is not a good tactic.”
The Mustangs hit 28 of 57 shots from the floor and 16 of 21 free throws. The Bombers kept pace at the foul line with a 16 for 19 performance and hit 26 of 54 shots.
“They really played us well,” Cole Wireman said. “They were beating us up and down the floor, which should not happen. We weren’t ready for that at all.”
Duzan felt his team played out of control at times.
“We just want to run, and when people don’t let us run sometimes we get frustrated and try to run faster,” he said. “We did that a few times and threw the ball to them too many times. But I don’t want to take anything away from Rensselaer. Their kids played hard all night long. They pushed us to the wire.”
Wireman said his only other experience on Rensselaer’s gym was one he’d like to forget. He made up for it, however, with a career best effort to bump up his 24 ppg. average.
“My freshman year here, I couldn’t hit a shot,” he said of his two-point, 1 of 6 shooting performance in 2018. “I hate this gym. It’s my least favorite. But, I don’t know, I was feeling it last night (win vs. Washington Township) and I felt it tonight. I just got my confidence back.”