Playing good teams on the road this season hasn't helped Sacred Heart with its win-loss record, but it may make the Knights a tougher team in the later portion of the season.
Sacred Heart never led in Saturday night's contest with Thomas More Prep-Marian, but the Knights did manage to cut a 19-point first half deficit down to three points in the fourth quarter before falling 80-73 at Al Billinger Field House.
It was the first game of the new year for Sacred Heart, dropping the Knights to 6-3 on the season. All three losses have come on the road against Hesston, Central Plains and now TMP.
The Monarchs, who played a league game on Friday night, improve to 6-2.
"All the teams we've lost to have been great teams playing at home," Sacred Heart coach Pat Martin said. "We knew this year was going to be tough because all the good teams we played last year at home, this year we're playing on the road.
"TMP has two losses and the other two teams are ranked No. 1 in the state. We have to go back to work. Practices haven't been great and we aren't hungry enough, but now maybe we will be."
The game was tied 14-all in the first quarter before TMP scored 16 unanswered points, including the last nine of the opening period and the first seven of the second.
That lead grew to 43-24 later in the second quarter as Monarch senior David McFarland had 19 of his 32 points before halftime.
"The first half we weren't executing and we were not doing the little things," Martin said. "We had some kids complaining about some calls but we told them the refs weren't causing us not to block out or make unforced turnovers.
"We just dug ourselves too big a hole. Credit TMP because they had their warmup game last night and (McFarland) put on a show."
The Knights did manage to rally twice in the second half. After back-to-back 3-pointers by Charlie Skidmore to end the third, the scoreboard read 57-53. After a check by the official scorer, the score was changed to 59-50 to start the fourth.
Sacred Heart then trailed 67-54 with less than five minutes to play, but Caleb Jordan had nine of his 24 points in a 12-2 run that made it 69-66.
The Monarchs stretched it out from there, starting with a three-point play from reserve Ryan Karlin. After two Grant Herrenbruck free throws, field goals from Jared Meyers and McFarland made it 76-68.
"Every good team is going to make a run and they're the defending 2A state champs," TMP coach Joe Hertel said. "We had a little trouble with the zone but our bench was superb.
"I'm glad we were in the pit (Billinger Fieldhouse) because I think it served us well."
"The second half we played better on defense and we boxed out better," Martin said. "We just couldn't get over the hump, but we also could have come out in the second half and gave up. We didn't and we have to build on that."
TMP-Marian girls 63
Sacred Heart 40
What was a one-possession game with two minutes remaining in the third quarter quickly turned into a runaway win for the TMP girls, who outscored Sacred Heart 25-5 in the final 10 minutes.
Down by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Knights (2-7) trailed 38-35 in the third quarter and had a shot that could have tied the game.
The Monarchs, 7-1 and ranked No. 6 in 3A, scored the final five points of the third to lead 43-35, then had a 14-1 run to start the fourth quarter.
"I was proud of the effort but at the end we just ran out of gas," Sacred Heart coach Arnold Schmidtberger said. "We quit scoring and they got some free throws and putbacks. It was a 20-point game but it felt more competitive than that."
TMP senior Kayla Vitztum had 12 of her 27 points in that second half run to help her team pull away. When Vitztum made the first of two free throws with 4:11 remaining in the game, she also reached the 1,000-point mark for her career.
The Monarchs also outscored Sacred Heart 18-0 on 3-pointers.
"It's a double-edge sword," Schmidtberger said. "(Vitztum) is so good and they also have shooters on the perimeter."
Anna Ivey had 11 points and Ally Cochran nine for Sacred Heart.