Habiger, younger O'Neil combine for 22 points in 72-63 win in Class 3A.

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

HUTCHINSON On a night when their floor leader uncharacteristically struggled, the Scott City Beavers showed just exactly how good a team they have had all season.

As the Beavers opened defense of their Class 3A state basketball championship, it was reserves Austin Habiger and Trey O'Neil who kick-started their early lead, and then it was the steady inside play of forwards Joey Meyer and Drew Kite that finished off the upset-minded Beloit Trojans, 72-63, as the Beavers advanced to Friday's 8:15 p.m. semifinal contest against Rock Creek, a 49-41 first-round winner over Moundridge.

"They played a tighter zone, and it created openings on the wing," said Habiger, a 5-11 junior who drilled four 3-pointers, including three in the third quarter, and finished with 12 points. "Mainly, my job is to come in and if they're leaving me open, I'll take the shot."

Habiger, who saw limited playing time in the 2011 tourney, said it was that experience that helped him relax in the opening game.

"It helped with the nerves to have played some last year," Habiger said. "We had to get some stuff out. We played sloppy at times, and I don't think we were as ready as we needed to be. But we got the win."

With starting guard Brett O'Neil getting into early foul trouble (two fouls in the first three minutes), it was left to his younger brother, Trey, to kick-start the Beavers' offense. And the 6-2 freshman did just that.

He scored eight of his 10 points in the first half, and his outside shooting helped open up the inside game for Meyer and Kite.

"Early, they weren't coming out on me, so I just took the shots and they went down," Trey O'Neil said. "Then, they started flying out on me, so I was able to dump it off down low to Joey and Drew."

The younger O'Neil said he was jittery before tipoff, and it took a few minutes into the game before he could find his rhythm.

"My coach just told me to play my game, so that's what I tried to do," Trey O'Neil said.

With some early nerves showing, the Beavers struggled to a 14-12 first quarter lead, but then went on a 22-14 run in the second to take a 36-26 advantage into the intermission.

"I thought being the No. 1 seed vs. a No. 8 had more to do with us not playing as well as we usually do," said Scott City coach Glenn O'Neil. "We were kind of out of sync, but at this stage it's win and move on. We're just glad to be playing Friday."

The Beavers produced their first-half lead with a 13-5 spree in a span of four minutes. Then, in the third quarter, it was Habiger's turn to pop from the outside.

Beloit, trailing just 38-31 at the 5:21 mark, then hit a drought and the Beavers responded with another 15-5 run, separating themselves for a 53-36 lead. Scott City led 55-40 heading to the final eight minutes.

And while the Beavers were never seriously threatened, neither were they able to completely close the book on the Trojans. Their biggest lead of the final quarter was 15, but the lead never got below eight, and that came at 71-63 with just 42 seconds remaining.

It was another strong performance for the 6-3 Meyer and 6-4 Kite. The duo finished with 18 and 13 points, respectively, and Kite came up big on the boards with 12.

"It took a while to get the ball down low for us," Meyer said. "But once we started hitting from the outside, Beloit started going out, and the guards were able to get us the ball. It was tough inside, but we got the job done."

Scott City finished the night shooting 45.7 percent (21 of 46) from the field and was 24 of 31 at the free throw line (77.4 percent). Beloit (17-7) hit 22 of 54 field goals (40.7 percent) and 15 of 20 at the charity stripe (75 percent). The Trojans, boasting three 6-5 players, won the rebounding battle, 33-31, as Austin Budke grabbed 10 to go along with his game-high 19 points. Zachary Brummer and Tanner Finney contributed 12 and 11 points, respectively, for Beloit.

The Beavers will take a 23-1 record into their 8:15 p.m. semifinal contest against Rock Creek.

In earlier quarterfinal action, it was No. 2-seeded Nemaha Valley holding off a late surge by Conway Springs to post a 51-46 victory, and Pittsburg-St. Mary's Colgan battled in a hard-fought contest with Central Heights, separating near the end for a 61-50 triumph.

Nemaha Valley (22-2) will face Central Heights (21-3) in the first Friday semifinal at 4:45 p.m.

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Beloit 12 14 14 23 -- 63

Scott City 14 22 19 17 -- 72

Beloit (17-7) Budke 7-15 5-8 19, Finney 3-13 3-4 11, Hesting 0-1 0-0 0, Vetter 3-8 1-2 9, Palen 0-1 0-0 0, Niemczyk 2-3 0-0 4, True 2-2 4-4 8, Brummer 5-11 2-2 12. Totals 22-54 15-20 63.

Scott City (23-1) B. O'Neil 0-7 6-6 6, T. O'Neil 4-7 2-3 10, Robinson 1-5 3-4 5, Hess 2-3 4-4 8, Habiger 4-7 0-0 12, Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Meyer 7-11 4-6 18, Kite 3-6 7-11 13. Totals 21-46 24-31 72.

3-point goals Beloit 4-13 (Budke 0-1, Finney 2-6, Vetter 2-3, Brummer 0-2), Scott City 6-14 (B. O'Neil 0-2, T. O'Neil 2-3, Robinson 0-2, Habiger 4-7). Rebounds--Beloit 33 (Budke 10), Scott City 31 (Kite 12). Assists--Beloit 14 (Budke, Finney, Brummer 3 each), Scott City 16 (T. O'Neil 6). Turnovers--Beloit 13, Scott City 11. Blocked shots--Beloit 2 (Budke, Niemczyk 1 each), Scott City 9 (Kite 4). Steals --Beloit 5 (Finney 3), Scott City 9 (B. O'Neil, T. O'Neil 3 each).