BATAVIA – Elgin’s point guard put on a show.
Batavia’s point guard won the basketball game.
Bulldogs senior Mike Rueffer drove to the basket and converted a spinning layup with 8 seconds left Tuesday to give the Batavia boys basketball team a thrilling, 55-54 comeback win against Elgin.
Maroons point guard Arie Williams lived up to his lofty billing with a sometimes breathtaking 32-point outburst, but it was Williams’ counterpart who was smiling wide after the game.
“He’s a little bit of an underrated point guard over there,” Batavia senior Zach Strittmatter, standing a few feet from Rueffer in the Bulldogs’ locker room, said of his fellow senior. “Few turnovers. He’s very good at getting to the basket. He caught the edge on [his man], and he just made a great shot.”
Trailing by five points with a minute to go, Rueffer and Strittmatter supplied the caliber of veteran leadership required to make Elgin pay for its late struggles.
Rueffer made a 10-footer on the baseline to trim the Maroons’ lead to 54-51 with 58 seconds left to play.
After Elgin’s Tanner Bednar missed two free throws, Rueffer attempted to tie the game with a 3-pointer, but the shot rimmed out. Strittmatter, though, seized one of his game-high 11 rebounds in traffic, and his stick-back brought the Bulldogs within 54-53 with 33 seconds to play.
“They’re not all that big of a team, so I felt I could go get some boards just by going hard to the basket,” Strittmatter said. “Maybe get lucky, like that one I got a little bit lucky, ball comes right to me.”
The Maroons (9-8, 1-6 Upstate Eight Conference River), were unable to put the ball in Williams’ hands at key moments down the stretch, then missed two more free throws, this time from forward Eric Sedlack, with 18 seconds left.
Bulldogs coach Jim Nazos initially sought to run a play for sharpshooting guard Micah Coffey on the decisive possession to follow, but with Coffey well covered, the Bulldogs instead cleared out for Rueffer, who knifed into the lane for the night’s final bucket.
Batavia batted the ball away from Elgin three times in the final eight seconds, twice by Rueffer off inbounds plays, as the Maroons were unable to uncork a last shot.
The win was the seventh in eight games for Batavia (9-8, 3-4 UEC River), which moved above .500 for the first time since starting the season 2-1 at the Windmill City Classic.
Elgin hadn’t played since the calendar turned to 2013, but Williams – the Maroons’ lightning-quick, 5-foot-9 guard – needed no time to rediscover his shooting stroke.
He buried seven 3-pointers on the night, five in the first half, and bedeviled several different Bulldogs defenders who tried to shake Williams out of his zone.
“We’re playing great defense on him, and then all the sudden he just hits a shot,” Strittmatter said. “There’s a sense of helplessness with that. But in the fourth quarter, we buckled down a little bit.”
Williams had 27 points entering the fourth quarter, all from the floor, but managed only five points from the foul line in the fourth quarter. His flow likely was disrupted by picking up his fourth foul in the final minute of the third quarter on a three-point play by Rueffer that brought the Bulldogs within 43-36.
Rueffer and the Bulldogs kept trying to drive it at Williams in the early stages of the fourth quarter in hopes of taking advantage of his foul-trouble vulnerability.
“It seems like that whole next 3 and a half minutes, we’re trying to get Mike in a 1-on-1 situation with him to get him his [fifth foul], and the next thing you know, we’re out of what we normally do, we’re out of synch,” Nazos said. “So it’s that fine line, do you keep going at it and keep grinding something there, or do you try to go back to what you’re doing? I guess there’s no concrete answer for it, but all I know is if he was out of the game it’d be a lot easier.”
Elgin coach Mike Sitter allowed Williams to play through the foul trouble and was pleased that Williams showed the discipline to avoid picking up his fifth. The rest of the Maroons’ fourth quarter execution, though, was hard for the coach to stomach.
“I think [Batavia] scored their last seven possessions in a row – if you can’t get a stop late defensively and if you can’t hit free throws, you don’t deserve to win games in conference,” Sitter said. “That’s what it comes down to. You can’t play well for three and a half quarters and expect to win. It’s got to be four, full quarters.”
Rueffer scored all nine of his points in the second half after a frustrating start to the game that included an inability to convert two early drives to the basket. Those mishaps seemed far from his mind in the final moments as he scored one of the biggest baskets of his Bulldogs career.
“He’s always in control,” Nazos said of Rueffer. “He’s a point guard. He’s always got control of the game, control of the floor. He didn’t panic. He just stayed calm and cleared out a side, and made his move.”
Strittmatter had a team-high 16 points to go with his 11 rebounds, while Coffey’s 12 points came on four 3-pointers, including one that drew the Bulldogs with 43-41 early in the fourth quarter. Luke Horton scored half of his eight points on a pair of crucial, inside baskets in the final quarter.
But for all of Batavia’s clutch performances, there still was no forgetting the theatrics provided by Williams, who reminded Rueffer of a recent Upstate Eight Conference legend.
“My sophomore year I guarded [former East Aurora Star Ryan Boatright, now at UConn], and that’s about to the extent of what he has with his ball-handling skills,” Rueffer said. “You never know where he’s going to go, and his first step is pretty much like Boatright’s, in my opinion. He just goes. Once he sees an alley, he goes, and he’s not turning back.”