CEDAR RAPIDS — Ryan Luehrsmann seemed to shake hands with everyone pregame as he walked onto the Ron Thillen Gymnasium court Monday night.
There was the official scorer, the two home radio guys, a few fans who meandered their way down to the floor from the stands. He was the Mayor of Catholic Town, if you will.
He’ll continue to earn that title if he continues getting wins like this.
“It was a lot of fun,” the Cedar Rapids Xavier rookie coach said after his team’s season-opening 60-48 victory over Mount Pleasant. “Obviously, basketball has always been a big part of my life. I’m just fortunate, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to be over here. It’s an outstanding community, the kids have tremendous attitudes. They’re always respectful of one another and their coaches. I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
The former Iowa Hawkeyes guard is 1-for-1 in his varsity coaching career after Xavier pulled away from a 36-36 tie after three quarters. The Saints trailed by eight at halftime.
A very nice win for a group that only got in four practices together. Four of the Saints’ playing rotation of nine got off to a late start because of an elongated football season.
Three of those guys were starters Monday night, and they led Xavier in scoring: Matt Nelson 17 points (and 14 rebounds), Trey Samspon 16 and Corbin Woods 14.
“We’ve still got a lot to work on, but I thought we played really well as a team,” said Sampson. “Moved the ball around and got open shots.”
Especially in their 24-point fourth quarter. Xavier clamped down on MP’s shooters and continued to get good inside shots itself offensively on a plethora of layups via back cuts and aggressive drives to the goal.
Xavier owned a 34-14 free-throw advantage, making 20 to Mount Pleasant’s nine. There was your difference.
“Football just makes you mentally tough, so it all transitions over,” said the 6-foot-8 Nelson. “Getting your legs underneath you is the most difficult part. Basketball conditioning is a lot different than football conditioning. It’s more aerobic, going up and down the court.”
Mount Pleasant won the Class 3A state championship last season but graduated its top three scorers. The Panthers – coached by former Maquoketa Valley prep Paul Rundquist – will be a much different team when 6-6 Ottumwa transfer Faith Pope becomes eligibible.
But that shouldn’t diminish one bit an impressive opening victory for Xavier. And an impressive coaching debut.
“The one thing I can say about these kids, and I don’t know that it’s always going to translate into wins, is that they’ve really bought in to coming to work every day and trying to get better,” Luehrsmann said. “Enjoying the game, enjoying their teammates, giving max effort. One thing I’ve learned that you know you’re going to get is that these kids will fight and compete. Really, that’s what it’s all about.”
AT C.R. XAVIER
MOUNT PLEASANT (48): Logan Mulford 2-7 1-2 7, Cameron Frank 2-7 1-4 5, Ryan Hanna 2-7 2-2 7, Dalton Conrad 8-13 0-0 19, Brant Shelman 1-1 0-0 2, Connor Shull 0-4 0-0 0, Trey Magnani 2-8 2-6 8. Totals 17-47 6-14 48.
C.R. XAVIER (60): Calvin Winker 0-1 1-2 1, Matt Nelson 6-7 5-12 17, Corbin Woods 5-10 3-4 14, Trey Sampson 5-8 5-5 16, Adam McDermott 0-3 5-8 5, Patrick Mullin 1-2 1-3 3, Reggie Schulte 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Downey 0-1 0-0 0, Rob Thinnes 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 19-35 20-34 60.
Halftime - Mount Pleasant 26, Xavier 18. 3-point goals - Mount Pleasant 8-23 (Mulford 2-5, Hanna 1-2, Conrad 3-5, Shull 0-4, Magnani 2-7), Xavier 2-9 (Woods 1-3, Sampson 1-3, McDermott 0-2, Mullin 0-1). Rebounds – Mount Pleasant 21 (Mulford 5), Xavier 35 (Nelson 14). Total fouls - Mount Pleasant 22, Xavier 14. Fouled out - Shull, Hanna. Turnovers – Mount Pleasant 12, Xavier 15.