COTTLEVILLE — Caleb Love doesn’t know if he’s played his last high school basketball game.
If he did, at least his team won it.
CBC held Francis Howell to two points in the final four minutes to pull out a 62-53 victory in a Class 5 boys basketball quarterfinal Saturday at Francis Howell Central.
The No. 1 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, CBC (21-7) advanced to play Kickapoo (20-9) in a state semifinal at 9:35 p.m. Friday at JQH Arena on the campus of Missouri State University.
It’s the second consecutive semifinal appearance for the Cadets and third since 2014.
As of Saturday night, the Missouri State High School Activities Association gave no indication that the remainder of the state basketball tournament would be halted or canceled. But should the games go on, Missouri would be the only state in America to play basketball. It was just one of five states that played tournaments this weekend. The other four wrapped up with spectator limits on Friday or Saturday.
A senior guard for CBC, Love is the most decorated player in the area since Chaminade’s Jayson Tatum in 2016. He’s been chosen as an All-American by multiple national organizations and selected to play in those all-star games. All of those games were canceled this week due to the coronavirus pandemic. Love was just happy to get one more run with his team.
“It’s a big one if this is my last game,” Love said. “Just knowing I gave it my all and my teammates got the win.”
If it is indeed his finale, it was a grand one at that. Love scored 24 points, grabbed five rebounds and made three steals. He crossed the 2,000 career point plateau and was clutch down the stretch as he led the Cadets out of a 51-48 deficit — their first in the second half — to take down a Howell team that started to find its stride as time wound down.
Love gave CBC the lead back when he made a steal, went coast-to-coast and dropped in a floater to put the Cadets ahead 52-51. Howell tied it at 52 when junior post Sam Thompson hit one of two free throws.
Love came right back and hit another tough runner to give CBC the lead for good with 1:58 to play.
CBC sophomore guard Rob Martin was clutch down the stretch as he knocked down five of his six free throws in the final minute to keep the Vikings at bay.
“We’ve been in situations like this before. We’ve played tough teams,” CBC coach Justin Tatum said. “We’ve prepped in practice for being down in certain situations. Our boys stuck to our mentality and our game plan all year and found a way to finish it out.”
Martin was outstanding as he finished with 15 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals. With Love receiving significant defensive attention, there were opportunities to score. Martin knocked down jumpers all night long as he worked screen and rolls. When the defender backed off him, he rose up and cashed out.
“I was built for it,” Martin said. “I know I can knock it down. (Thompson) was backing up so I just put it up. Coach told me to shoot it eight of 10 times and have confidence. So that’s what it was.”
CBC junior swingman Chevalier “Karate” Brenson helped the Cadets get off to a strong start in the first half. He knocked down a trio of 3-pointers. Not known for his ability to be deadly behind the arc, Brenson was prepared to do what his team needed when called upon. He finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and made four steals.
“Coach told me earlier today I’d have to knock down some big shots and I told him I’ve got him,” Brenson said. “I was working on it.”
CBC led 36-28 at halftime when Martin scored a runner just before the buzzer.
The No. 2 large school, Howell (28-2) felt pretty good at the break. The Vikings were hurt by Brenson’s long-range shots and turnovers against the Cadets pressure defense but still had a run in them.
“We had more turnovers than we’re accustomed to so we really didn’t play it as well we could have and we’re still down eight at half,” Howell coach Kurt Jacob said. “We were in good shape. I said we’d have a lead in the second half with a chance to win it and we did.”
Howell rallied from the eight-point deficit to tie it at 44 when senior swingman Matt Schark threw down a two-handed dunk with 7 minutes to go. Howell’s all-time leading scorer, Schark finished with 22 points and five rebounds.
Junior guard Sam Maddox gave the Vikings a 51-48 lead when he canned a 3-pointer with 4:24 remaining. He scored 15 points.
But CBC turned up its defense and was able to limit Howell just two points, and no field goals, the rest of the way.
“We told them, we played well enough to win. A shot here and there has to go in, things have to go your way sometimes,” Jacob said. “We played our hearts out. It just didn’t happen. We got beat by a good team.”