Senior guard Ben Ellingworth fired through 10 3-pointers on Thursday to lead the Mankato Loyola boys basketball team to an 80-48 Valley Conference Showcase victory over Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton at Mankato’s Fitzgerald gym.
After suffering through some early-season turbulence, Loyola continued its late-season surge and moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season at 12-11.
“The start of the year wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but our motto throughout the year has been ‘Grit’ and we come to practice every day and worked hard,” said Ellingworth, who also had 11 rebounds and six assists. “We’ve gotten a lot more confident as the year has gone on. We all know our roles, and we play to the best of our ability.”
Senior guard Matthew Kujawa chipped in 12 points off the bench for the Crusaders, while freshman guard Lawson Godfrey tallied 11 points. Freshman forward Simon Morgan hauled down 13 rebounds and blocked three shots, and senior guard Matthew Helget dished out 11 assists.
“We wanted to get the ball and go so they couldn’t set up the 1-3-1 zone,” first-year Loyola coach Sam Carlson said. “We’re playing really confident right now, and when Ben hits six in a row to start a game that really helps too. We got some really good looks offensively, and defensively we were able to stop (Kobe) Weimert after he had around 30 the first time we played.”
Loyola, which dropped a one-point decision to the Bulldogs (10-13) earlier in the year, took the drama out of Thursday’s game early by riding Ellingworth’s 3-point barrage to a 27-11 advantage midway through the first half. Ellingworth began things with a trio of triples off the left wing before nailing one from the top-of-the-key and the right baseline.
“I have to credit my teammates because they penetrated and found me in open spots,” Ellingworth said. “They did most of the work, and I was just able to knock down the open shots.”
“We really got out and transitioned well,” Godfrey said. “We just knew we had to see what we wanted during the season. We started working harder in practice and we got more focused. We’re attacking much better now and we’re taking kick-out 3s rather than just swinging it around. It seemed like we had a lot of offensive rebounds tonight. We’ve been settling a lot this year, but now we’re starting to get out and go.”
After Ben Schrom’s layup to open the second half pulled the Bulldogs within 44-29, Godfrey’s right-side 3-pointer and fastbreak basket triggered a 19-2 surge which produced a 63-31 cushion. Loyola, which dominated the boards 45-20, continued to dominate and forced running time when Ellingworth drained back-to-back threes with 5:02 left.
Loyola stretched its winning streak to four and has won eight of its last nine games.
“I am really excited about this team right now,” Carlson said. “We’re playing really good basketball and are following the game plan. I’ve played 10 guys the last few games, and everyone is making plays. We’ve been real close all year, but now we’re making plays at the beginning of games which hurt us earlier in the season. I’ve learned as a coach adjustment-wise, and our guys are playing really hard. ... It’s been a lot fun to watch our progress as a coach.”
Loyola plays at 2 p.m. Saturday against Madelia in the Valley Showcase final at Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial. JWP, which received 10 points from Weimert and nine from Tristan Schroer, takes on the host Knights at 12:15 pm.