A young St. Ambrose men’s basketball team took an important step forward Saturday, ending a five-game losing streak by answering a late-game challenge.
The Fighting Bees fought off Trinity Christian 76-65 at Lee Lohman Arena, outscoring the Trolls 16-5 over the final 6 minutes, 15 seconds in a Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference game filled with a mountain of momentum swings.
"When they made their run, we answered. We stuck with the plan, made good decisions and that was good to see," St. Ambrose coach Ray Shovlain said. "That’s improvement, and that’s where we are at right now, trying to get better each and every day."
Down six early but up six at the half, St. Ambrose rode the hot hand of sophomore Jake Meeske to build a 56-41 lead with 12 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
The sophomore from United Township scored 11 of his 15 points during a five-minute stretch midway through the second half, but Trinity Christian answered, playing its way back into the game by holding St. Ambrose scoreless over the next four minutes.
The Trolls tied the game at 60-60 on a 10-foot jumper from the left wing by Nate Hurt, a freshman from Moline who finished with 11 points for Trinity Christian.
John Kerr, one of two freshmen in the Bees’ lineup, answered on the ensuing possession.
He muscled his way to the basket for two of his game-high 27 points while moving St. Ambrose ahead to stay at 62-60 with 6:17 remaining.
Greg Wagner and Kerr combined to score the Bees’ next 10 points over a five-minute stretch, extending the lead to 70-62 on a basket by Kerr with 1:26 to play.
The 6-foot-7 Kerr knocked down 10-of-13 shots and grabbed eight rebounds, an effort Meeske complemented with a 10-rebound game that led the Bees toward a 40-27 advantage on the boards.
"We were moving the ball well, and the shots I was getting, anybody on our team could have hit. They set me up with some good, open looks," said Kerr, who scored 16 of his points in the first half to help the Fighting Bees (6-7, 2-4 CCAC) to a 36-30 halftime advantage.
St. Ambrose helped itself by limiting Trinity Christian to 36.2-percent shooting, which Kerr believed proved to be the biggest area of growth for the Bees.
"We played way better on the defensive end, and we had to because we needed to get a big conference win," Kerr said. "That was the main thing today — get a win — and that started on defense for us. That gave us a chance."
Eight Bees scored, eight grabbed rebounds and eight dished out assists in the win.
"That’s the way we have to play and we want to play," Shovlain said. "We’re the type of team that needs contributions from a lot of players, and we got that today. That’s progress for us, what we want to see."
Caleb Jonkman led the Trolls (5-9, 1-5) with 26 points.