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BELLEVILLE - Despite being young and lacking experience, the Marquette Catholic Explorers have still managed to keep up with their winning ways thus far.

The Explorers used a strong 23-9 run in the second half and then eventually held off the Althoff Catholic Crusaders 55-49 in Belleville on Thursday night to earn their tenth win of the season before Christmas.

“At one point I looked out, and we had three sophomores out there and just two seniors,” Marquette head coach Steve Medford said. “We don’t execute as well as we used to as we normally do with some of the groups I’ve had, but we got a little inexperience. We’ll get better with that.”

“We haven’t seen that speed, that type of length. They got a lot of guys that can make threes.” Medford said. “[Althoff’s] a good basketball team. They just beat Centralia, Marion, and Mascoutah, so that’s a good a win for our club.”

Six-foot-six senior center Nick Hemann led all scorers with 17 points. He was followed by Chris Hartrich’s 13 points and ten points by Brett Terry. Junior shooting guard Spencer Cox chipped in eight points with two three-pointers.

“This is a team with a lot of balance,” Medford said. On top of that, we got a lot of guys that are capable and a lot of inexperience. It’s going to be an interesting year. We’re a team that’s hard to scout because there’s so many pieces to us. There’s a different guy every night.”

Althoff is now at 500 with a 6-6 record.

Greg Well led the Crusaders with 13 points alongside 6-foot-8 Patrick Readye’s ten. Daulton Burgner finished with nine, and Jack Bruening added eight.

Along with Hemann, Hartrich is a key returning player from last year’s team that finished with an undefeated regular season. A senior guard, Hartrich now knows what it takes to succeed on and off the court for Marquette and wants to be a leader for the younger players.

“My role for the team is to be a role model and try to help them come along for future years and so show them how to control a game,” Hartrich said. “It all starts with a great coaching staff and every time you come to Marquette you’re expected to play as hard you can 100 percent. That’s our motto.”

Runs fueled the majority of the game.

Althoff led 12-9 with time running out in the first quarter before Cox lofted a half-court shot that banked off the backboard and rimmed into the net as time expired.

That gave the Explorers some momentum as they scored the first six points of the second quarter to take an 18-12 lead. The Crusaders would hit them back with a run of their own.

Down 20-16, Ethyn Brown knocked down a triple as he was fouled and tied the game up as he completed the four-point play by making the free-throw. Althoff would finish the first half on a 12-3 run and led 26-21 at halftime.

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“I felt pretty poor coming in at halftime. I thought we gave some easy baskets away, but I knew that we could hang with these guys,” Medford said.

Medford would feel much better when the third quarter started.

The Explorers scored eight straight points and retook the lead at 29-26 with two baskets each by Hemann and Terry. After a layup by Readye, Cox nailed a baseline three-pointer, which was followed by two more buckets by Terry.

“We started to flow in the third quarter,” Hemann said. “It really helped with Brett coming in and just bringing everything together.”

During that quarter, Althoff shot 1-of-16 from the field and for a 12-minute stretch in the second half they made two field goals. Another key for Marquette was their ability to crash the boards and limit the Crusaders to one chance on most of their trips.

“That was one of our main keys for this year and this game,” Hemann said. “When we get them one and done's we keep the ball in our hands, keep our offensive touches up, and keep it a 30-to-40 game for us. That’ll help us a lot in the long run.”

Marquette’s biggest lead of the game was 41-31 early in the fourth quarter, but Althoff would creep back in. The Explorers committed 19 turnovers and didn’t close out the game smoothly.

“There were a few times there at the end of the game where we told the kids and said [Althoff] are going to get interested here,” Medford said. “We knew at that speed, their quickness and athletic ability that they could cause some havoc with us and they did.”

A Greg Wells and-one trimmed the Explorers deficit to 51-49 with 12 seconds to go. Hartrich was sent to the foul line with nine seconds left and calmly made both free throws. Marquette then held off Althoff on the following possession.

“We had to play smart, value our possessions and cut as much clock as much as possible at the end of the game. Our game plan was pretty simple, but it worked out,” Hartrich said.

Marquette improves to 10-1 on the season and arguably earned their best victory of the season. They will aim to claim their fourth consecutive Freeburg-Columbia Holiday Tournament championship starting on Dec 26 at 1 p.m. against Waterloo.

“I don’t think people have a lot of expectations for us this year,” Medford said. “To be 10-1 sitting at the break with a good win over Althoff and a few other schools I’m ecstatic for my kids.”

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