Leo head coach Cary Cogdell called it the most physical game he’s ever coached.
It was that much more physical for the players on the floor.
Bishop Dwenger and Leo combined for 41 fouls in the Saints’ 62-47 win in the 3A New Haven sectional semifinals on Friday night, and there could have been a lot more whistles.
“This is the most physical game we’ve played all year,” Cogdell said. “(Bishop Dwenger) makes things very difficult for you, and they did.”
The flow of the game was physical from the start as both teams battled getting into the lane and the basket area. The referees let the teams play and at times an occasional trash-talking after the whistle occurred.
But in postseason basketball with a spot in the sectional championship on the line, it’s something both teams expected.
“Everyone came out with a little more physicality,” Bishop Dwenger forward Grady Eifert said. “We knew Leo was a tough team and it was going to be a battle the entire game.”
Eifert finished with a team-high 17 points for Bishop Dwenger (14-8), who moves onto to play host New Haven in the sectional championship tonight. The Bulldogs beat the Saints 63-48 on January 29.
Bishop Dwenger used its physical play to set the tone early by jumping on a 20-2 run to start the game. Leo (12-9) didn’t score its first points until two free throws by senior guard Bryce Beer with 4:13 remaining in the quarter. The Lions first field goal came from sophomore forward Dylan Barrow late in the quarter to cut the Saints lead to 20-4.
“We just focused on getting an early start and not coming out flat,” Eifert said. “That really helped us at the beginning and set the momentum the rest of the game.”
The Saints defense was stifling throughout the game as they held the Lions to 31 percent shooting (15 of 49) and nearly 20 points below their season average.
It was the combination Bishop Dwenger’s fast start and its physical play that Leo couldn’t climb back from.
“They were the aggressor and I thought we weathered the storm well,” Cogdell said. “But if you get down 18 against them when they’re so physical, it was very hard to come back.”
The game became more chippy as it wore on and both Cogdell and Bishop Dwenger head coach Matt Kostoff had to remind their players to stay focused. Both coaches want to see their players fight and scrap, but without going over the line and risk getting flagrant or technical fouls.
“We just had to match (Leo’s) intensity and I thought we did a good job of that,” Bishop Dwenger guard Michael Fiacable said. “You just have to stay mentally focused.”
Leo adjusted its game to try and get looks from the perimeter, which didn’t fall consistently. Junior guard David Hardin led all scorers with 18 points, including four three-pointers on 7 of 14 shooting. Fellow junior guard Adam Davison added 11 for the Lions.
Kyle Hartman followed his 20-point game against Bishop Luers with 14 points against Leo while going 6 of 8 from the foul line. Ryan Christman added eight points while Fiacable scored six.
Tonight’s sectional championship against New Haven (19-3) promises to be another physical game for Bishop Dwenger. The Bulldogs’ 6 foot 11 Steve McElevene will give the Saints big men a huge challenge.
With the sectional championship at stake, Bishop Dwenger will be ready for another physical one.
Bishop Dwenger 62, Leo 47
Bishop Dwenger 20 10 13 19 – 62
Leo 6 15 13 11 – 47
Bishop Dwenger: Eifert 17, Hartman 14, Christman 8, Fiacable 6, Stepp 5, Freimuth 4, Peters 4, Mugg 2, Veracco 2.
Leo: Hardin 18, Davison 11, Barrow 9, Beer 7, Eldridge 1, Klopfenstein 1.