BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the second time in three years, the Arby's Classic final produced a rather ugly struggle filled with turnovers and enough bricks to build a three-story schoolhouse.
But for the Urspring squad out of Ulm, Germany, the grisly game was as gorgeous as a rainbow after a gully washer.
Two years after managing just 36 points in a brutal championship game defeat, Urspring took control early Monday and stymied the high-flying Mentor (Ohio) Cardinals in a 63-51 victory.
“Winning is not about beauty,” said Urspring coach Michael Spoecker. “Winning itself is beautiful enough. You cannot play beautiful and win – or that would be like perfect. But if I have to choose beauty or winning, winning it is.”
The victory for the Germans, who made their eighth appearance in Bristol, was the first for an international team in the 30-year run of the venerable tournament at Viking Hall.
“That’s history, isn’t it?” Spoecker said. “You love it, man, wow. It’s unbelievable. I cannot say anything.”
Urspring also became only the second team to go 5-0 in winning the title, joining 1994 winner Augusta (Ga.) Westside, which also went from a play-in game all the way to the top prize.
“It was a tough game and everybody saw that we were a little tired,” said Urspring senior Malik Muller, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player despite scoring just nine points in the final. “Especially me, they guarded me pretty hard and I had not the best day because I missed what felt like every shot, but in the end winning is what counts.”
Mentor, which became the first team in tournament history to lose back-to-back finals after also falling 73-66 to Christ School (N.C.) in the last game of the 2011 tournament, averaged 79.7 points in its first three games of the 2012 tournament, but had only 28 after three quarters Monday. The Cardinals’ 51 points represented their lowest output by 15 in 12 Arby’s games over the past three years.
Kenneth Ogbe, who led Urspring with 24 points and also snatched eight rebounds, hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Germans an 11-7 lead midway through the first quarter and Mentor never caught up again.
“We didn’t get to the bucket a lot, we didn’t some of the 3s and we didn’t hit free throws,” said Cardinals coach Bob Krizancic. “We just couldn’t do it.”
Ogbe said his strong shooting game came with an assist from Muller.
“I felt good today,” he said. “I talked to Malik before the game and he was saying, ‘Just shoot the ball.’ And I was just doing that. He gave me that confidence.”
Mentor shot just 17-of-56 from the field (30.4 percent) and made only 8-of-33 3-pointers, including just one in a brutal third quarter in which the Cardinals managed only six points.
The second quarter wasn’t much better for Mentor – or Urspring for that matter either – as the Cardinals scored just eight points to trail 31-22 at the break. The two teams combined for 14 turnovers and made a mere 5-of-25 shots during the eight-minute stretch before halftime in which the only excitement was seeing which team would record the next traveling violation.
“It was tough for us because they were playing different than all the other teams in the tournament, but we did a great job on defense,” Ogbe said.
Brandon Fritts, playing his first game of the season for Mentor after a football injury, led the Cardinals with 12 points despite sitting out most of the first half. Jeff Foreman was the only other Mentor player in double figures with 10 points, but that came on just 3-of-15 shooting and included a goose egg on the score sheet after halftime.
Despite all their struggles, Mentor still trailed by just seven midway through the third quarter and by only 10 early in the fourth, but the Cardinals never could put together one of their patented runs fueled by their pressure defense.
“They were strong and they were smart and we never could get that two or three turnovers,” Krizancic said. “Even the one or two that we got, you’ve got to take advantage of it and we didn’t. We just haven’t played real well in the championship game the past two years.”
Nicholas Burgard and Kevin Bryant each added 10 points for Urspring, which won despite 21 turnovers.
But nothing much mattered to the joyful Germans other than their first-place finish.
“It’s unbelievable,” Spoecker said. “I wouldn’t have thought in the beginning that we would have a chance. I heard all those matchups that we were going to play against and I was like, ‘Wow. It’s going to be tough just going over the first or second round.’ ”
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