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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Ithaca struggles to find its way in home loss to Michigan Lutheran Seminary

Ithaca's Josh Hafner goes to the basket over Michigan Lutheran Seminary defenders during a conference game at Ithaca Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Ithaca closed within four points with two minutes left, but lost 62-55 (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Ithaca's Travis Smith tries to keep a rebound alive against Michigan Lutheran Seminary defenders during a conference game at Ithaca Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Ithaca closed within four points with two minutes left, but lost 62-55 (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Ithaca's Logan Hessbrook goes to the basket against Michigan Lutheran Seminary defenders during a conference game at Ithaca Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Ithaca closed within four points with two minutes left, but lost 62-55 (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Ithaca's Spence DeMull drives to the basket following a steal against Michigan Lutheran Seminary during a conference game at Ithaca Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Ithaca closed within four points with two minutes left, but lost 62-55. (Photo by Skip Traynor)

Athleticism can only get you so far.

It’s clear that the Ithaca High School boys basketball team has an abundance of very good athletes including three who are set to play collegiate football at either the Division I or Division II level.

But in addition to strong athleticism, basketball smarts is necessary in order to become a champion and that is where the Yellowjackets were lacking Friday night at home in a 62-55 loss to Michigan Lutheran Seminary.

Last February, Ithaca showed that kind of necessary basketball intelligence as it claimed a share of the Tri-Valley Conference West title by downing MLS on its home court.

This time around, the Yellowjackets lacked the poise and fundamental play versus Michigan Lutheran Seminary and now are sitting at 2-3 in the TVC West along with a 5-3 overall record.

“We have a good basketball IQ, but I don’t know what to think about tonight,” Ithaca coach Jim Thompson said. “We must have turned the ball over more than 20 times against the 2-3 zone and some of them we were by ourselves. Until we show teams we can play against a 2-3 zone and someone knocks down a shot, we’re going to see it all season long.”

Aside from a few outside shots by sophomore Spence DeMull, the Yellowjackets struggled with their shooting from outside the paint all game long.

DeMull even banked in a long 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer, pulling Ithaca within a 19-13 deficit after initially jumping out to a 6-0 lead.

Ithaca continued to struggle in the second quarter as the aforementioned deficit was not cut into at all.

“We are practicing our shooting more than we ever have, but we still just keep ramming it in there and ramming it in there,” Thompson said. “There is no rhyme or reason and our passing is atrocious. When you play teams that are inferior athletically, you can get away with that. But when you play Carrollton, Saginaw Valley Lutheran, and MLS who are just as athletic as you, you’d better have some discipline. Right now, we don’t have the discipline we need.”

Conversely, at times it appeared Michigan Lutheran Seminary could not miss from the outside and specifically it was the guard duo of Sam Hirsch (24 points) and Nathanael Lindloff (22 points) who were the main culprits versus the Yellowjackets.

With Ithaca trailing 29-24 in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Lindloff released a prayer from beyond half-court which found nothing but net to up the Cardinals’ advantage to 32-24 at the break.

The Yellowjackets were again lifeless in the third quarter before finally finding some spirit in the final stanza, cutting the score to 50-45 on a pair of Josh Hafner free throws with 3:30 left.

A minute-plus later and Hafner scored on a drive to the basket to further cut into the score at 53-49.

Unfortunately for the hosts, it was as close as the game would get.

Ithaca managed to cut it to 60-55 on a pair of Logan Hessbrook free throws with 37.5 seconds remaining, coming right after he took a nasty spill when he was undercut while going up for a rebound. He stayed on the floor for a couple moments before regaining his composure and draining the free throws.

In fact, the Yellowjackets had a chance right after the Hessbrook free throws to make it a one-possession game as it forced an MLS turnover.

But instead of converting, Ithaca turned it right back over and Hirsch proceeded to hit two free throws with 21.1 seconds to go to seal the deal.

“When we start played with a sense of urgency for four quarters instead of the fourth quarter, we’ll turn a corner,” Thompson added. “We need to focus on what we need to do to get better on the basketball court and let the distractions go away. How do you go from the way we played in the second and third quarter to how we played in the fourth? Kids are just losing their focus and it’s just where our basketball team is at right now. Hopefully it is fixable.”

Ithaca returns to action Tuesday when it travels to Breckenridge for a 7:30 p.m. start.

Last Updated: 1/17/2014 11:02:24 PM EST

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