It was defense that led the charge Tuesday in a comeback win against Jefferson City.
The Blair Oaks Falcons still had plenty in them at that end of the floor Wednesday as they pulled away in the second half and won 70-64 against the Father Tolton Trailblazers to close out the Joe Machens Fantastic Four Tournament at Fleming Fieldhouse.
"I look back to last night, I think the second half of the Jeff City game really gave us the confidence to know that it starts on the defensive end," Blair Oaks coach Ryan Fick after the Falcons finished 2-1 to take third place in the three-day tournament, "and we can create offensive opportunities off of our defense. Hopefully it will take us in a step in the right direction."
Neither team led by more than six points until Blair Oaks scored the final eight points of the third quarter to lead 49-42.
Brysan Jeffries and Quinn Kusgen each got open for 3-pointers in transition off missed shots for Father Tolton.
Then as the final seconds of the third quarter ticked down, Kusgen was fouled on a drive to the basket and made both free throws.
That was a common occurrence for Kusgen, who finished 10-of-13 from the line during a 21-point performance.
"I specifically talked to Quinn and even Jake Closser a little bit about, 'Hey, let's try to get to the line,'" Fick said. "Quinn is really good at getting into the paint and is real slippery."
The first points of the fourth quarter were a pair of Kusgen free throws and the Falcons took over from there.
Blair Oaks limited Father Tolton, which earned the tournament title on a tiebreaker, to two points in nearly a five-minute span and the lead was 57-44 with 5:48 remaining.
Carson Prenger tossed it to a cutting Luke Northweather from underneath the basket, leading to two free throws.
Closser then scored on back-to-back possessions as he weaved through traffic along the baseline for a layup, got the rebound off a Northweather block at the other end and took it all the way to the basket for another layup to cap off a 16-2 run than spanned two quarters.
"He's active defensively, got some deflections and run-outs," Fick said of the 5-foot-8 Closser, who had 10 points and six rebounds. "And what I was impressed with was I think both times he went in for a layup he's got 6-9 sizing him up."
Blair Oaks led by as many as 16 after Dylan Hair made two free throws to make it 67-51 with 1:41 remaining.
The gap closed late when a pair of steals led to 3s for Justin Boyer and Jevon Porter added a tough 3 in the final seconds.
Boyer came off the bench to score a team-high 20 points for the Trailblazers, with 12 of them coming in the first quarter to give Father Tolton a 17-12 lead after eight minutes of play.
"They had some other guys step up," Fick said. "Boyer, think from what we've seen is probably his best game offensively this year."
Porter, the tournament MVP, was held to 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting as the 6-foot-2 Prenger drew the assignment against the 6-11 Porter.
"He's such a good player, you don't go into a game like that and feel as if you're going to play well enough defensively to hold him completely in check," Fick said. "Carson Prenger started out on him and did a tremendous job guarding him 94 feet. I think it was difficult for him throughout the game and that was our goal."
Porter did grab a game-high 15 rebounds.
Northweather went against Porter when Prenger went to the bench.
"It's a total team effort because he's so good at putting the ball on the floor and getting into the lane," Fick said. "I thought our rotations were good tonight, I thought there were times where we made him get rid of the ball."
The Falcons fed the 6-9 Northweather in the post in the second quarter, leading to 12 of his 28 points.
"When we will move the ball from side to side and we get movement from our guards on basket cuts and fill in the open spot and feeding the post with that movement," Fick said, "it's so much better because the defense has a harder time of keying in and being able to go double and triple team him."
Two Northweather free throws gave Blair Oaks the largest lead of the first half at 29-23 with 2:13 on the clock before Father Tolton scored the final six points to tie it at 29 at halftime.
Northweather, who made the all-tournament team along with Kusgen, led Blair Oaks with 11 rebounds.
The loss for Father Tolton was the first of the season for the Trailblazers (4-1), who defeated Jefferson City and Helias in the tournament.
Blair Oaks (6-2) is back in action Tuesday when it plays at St. Elizabeth.