DANVILLE — Andrew Maxwell was the hot-shot basketball player Thursday night.
Very hot. Unexpectedly hot.
The Arthur-Lovington senior drilled three three-point shots in a 21/2-minute stretch of the first quarter as the Knights started the sectional semifinals on an 8-0 run and went on to upset seventh-ranked Salt Fork 56-43 in a Class 1A tournament game at Schlarman.
“Our scouting report said he wasn’t much of a shooter,” Salt Fork coach Andrew Johnson said.
Maxwell played around-the-world in the first quarter, draining consecutive three-pointers, starting from the right side of the basket, the top of the key and then from the left side.
“We got a great first half out of Maxwell,” A-L coach Dale Schuring said. “We wanted to attack their big guys with our offense against their defense. We wanted to make their big guys guard (on the perimeter). If they would have played Andrew tight, he probably would have driven.
“He can shoot the three. He just doesn’t do it a lot.”
Maxwell scored 16 of his game-high 23 points in the opening half as the Knights built a 27-19 lead. At game’s end, the 6-foot-2 Maxwell made a season-high 5 of 6 three-point attempts.
The points were important, but not the only key factor.
“Our undersized kids did a great job on their post (Max Stutsman),” Schuring said, “and our two sophomores (Tyler Schuring and Avery Schrock) did a fantastic job on their point guard.”
The 6-4 Stutsman finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. However, Arthur-Lovington led 19-10 with less than 31/2 minutes to play in the first half before Stutsman attempted his second shot.
“Their defense and speed gave us trouble,” Johnson said. “They did a good job clogging the lane and with ball pressure on (point guard) Ross (Learnard), but he has seen that a lot this year.”
At halftime, the two teams had combined for 13 turnovers, but 11 had been committed by the Storm (26-5).
Arthur-Lovington’s reward — besides an appearance in the sectional finals for a school-record second consecutive year — is a date against Cissna Park (20-10) tonight. The winner reserves a berth in the Class 1A Elite Eight.
“We spent a lot of energy here tonight,” Dale Schuring said. “As much as I don’t want to say we’re at a disadvantage, we are at a disadvantage having to play back-to-back. I don’t think it is right, but it is what it is.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment on the part of these kids. They’ve worked hard to get where they are and hopefully go a little further.”
Cissna Park presents an even bigger challenge inside than Salt Fork with the dominance of 6-4 Cole Hasselbring.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Schuring said, “and their team looked very disciplined (in the semifinals).”
Tyler Schuring, who hit 6 of 10 shots, scored 16 points for the Knights (24-5). Teammates Curtis Plank, Caleb Schrock and Evan Seegmiller all cleared six rebounds to share the A-L lead.
Salt Fork stormed back from a 16-point fourth-period deficit (47-31) with less than 31/2 minutes to play and drew within seven points and had the ball in the final 90 seconds.
Dale Schuring said there was no panic from his athletes.
“They’ve been in these situations several times and are more accustomed to it than the average high school kid,” he said.
The Knights closed out the win by connecting on 9 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws. Those points came from four different players, with only Avery Schrock (4 for 4) shooting more than two down the stretch.
“They came out hot early and didn’t seem to miss,” Johnson said. “It seemed like when we’d cut it down to a two-possession game, they’d answer. They executed key plays every time we had a run going.”
Salt Fork held a 30-26 rebounding edge.
Senior Alec Dutton completed his prep basketball career with nine points and seven boards, six coming on the offensive end. Dutton and Clayton Fauver are the two lone senior starters for the Storm.