COLUMBUS — Before the 2016-2017 season, Columbus coach Ben Schambow felt like then-freshman Ben Emler had a bright future.
Emler already had the right size and strength to handle a varsity schedule, but Schambow wanted to know if he could shoot. About a month before that season began, Schambow put Emler through a workout to see if the freshman had what it took.
After Emler made 15 or 20 shots in a row, Schambow said the decision to move him up the varsity level was easy, and he soon became the first man off the bench for a Cardinals team that featured then-seniors Tanner Perry and Noah Coughlin.
Little did Schambow know, four years later Emler would become a 6-foot-5 shooting machine that’s on the brink of breaking 1992 graduate Erik Quamme’s career scoring record of 1,353 points. Emler officially tied Quamme’s mark on Saturday, when he scored a career-high 35 points in a 61-39 non-conference victory over Platteville at Columbus High School.
“I knew he was going to be special,” Schambow said. “Anytime Ben shoots the ball, I don’t have any negative feelings.”
Schambow has had the opportunity to coach some special basketball players during his 11-year coaching career at Columbus. Each were special in their own right, but there was something different about Emler.
“If there was ever going to be somebody that was going to break the record, it would be Ben Emler,” Schambow said. “Ben puts in more time into the game of basketball than literally anybody I’ve ever been around. I’ve been around for a very long time. Ben is very proud of the time he puts in and it definitely shows.”
Emler, who will likely break the record on Tuesday at Watertown Luther Prep, agreed with his coach’s kind words.
“I was really excited,” Emler said. “I just wanted to get out there and prove my abilities. I grew up watching Tanner Perry, Noah Coughlin and Peyton Henry and I just really wanted an opportunity to play with them. I had really been wanting to play on the varsity stage since I was in 6th or 7th grade. I wanted to put the work in to get there.”
That hard work paid off, especially during Saturday’s game, where at times, Platteville (3-13) defended him with two or three players.
“I’d be down on the block and I’d hear them say, ‘pinch Emler, pinch Emler,’” Emler said. “I’d have two guys on my sides, but as long as we would move the ball around, the defense would move. That would open up outside shots for my teammates or that middle spot for me too.”
Emler scored 16 points in the first half as Schambow said the Hillmen’s 2-3 zone defense made it extremely difficult. However, Columbus (10-4) still finished out the first half on an 11-5 run to go into break with a 25-21 lead.
“We had to make a couple adjustments at halftime because we weren’t getting what we practiced,” Schambow said. “We knew they were going to play zone, but they took us out of that. I think a lot of it just had to do with being patient. Anytime you’re playing against the zone, you can’t hurry it. You’ve got to find open guys in open spots and nothing is going to be easy out of it.
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“Once we got a couple, we found some cracks in the defense, we got more confidence and then we knocked down a couple of 3s. With the team this year, once the confidence starts, it’s hard to stop it.”
Schambow knew that as long as the Cardinals moved the ball around, eventually they would find Emler open for his jumper. Unfortunately for the Hillmen, Emler’s jumper was on in the second half. He didn’t miss many as he scored 19 points.
“I was just feeling it,” Emler said. “I knew my jumper was on, so I was looking to if I caught it in the middle of the lane, that soft spot, I knew if I planted my foot, I could turn around and get some jumpers up. Plus my teammates were hitting down shots too, so that opened things up.”
Columbus’ Caden Brunell, Ryan Schulte and Will Cotter each scored six points, while Alex Campbell contributed with four points.
“We had to get the ball in the right spots for Ben to score,” Schambow said. “That falls on the other four guys on the floor. They worked extremely hard on both sides of the floor. Platteville made it extremely difficult to pass the ball. They put a lot of pressure on guys off the ball. It was a difficult game for others to get in a rhythm. Luckily, I’ve got kids that are resilient. This season, they’re developing that winning attitude, which we really need.”
Platteville got as close as 30-29 when Nathan Busch, who scored six points, drained a 3 with 11:21 left. Emler responded with a triple of his own that started a 14-4 run to put Columbus up 44-33 with 8:30 remaining.
“It felt good tonight, especially on those jumpers right in the middle,” Emler said.
There hasn’t been many nights where Emler has felt off during his career. After his freshman year where he scored just 165 points, Emler has scored just over 400 points in the last two seasons.
“As a freshman, I just wanted to come in and make an impact,” Emler said. “I wanted to grab a lot of rebounds as a freshman because I knew Tanner and Noah were dominant scorers. I just wanted to fit in on the team and contribute any way I could. My sophomore year, I put a lot of work in before that summer and I wrote down my goals of what I wanted to do. (Breaking Quamme’s scoring record) was one of them.”
COLUMBUS 61, PLATTEVILLE 39</&hspag3>
Platteville 21 18 - 39
Columbus 25 36 - 61
PLATTEVILLE (39) ― (fgm ftm-fta pts) Isaac Vorwald 3 0-0 9, Jesse Martin 3 0-0 6, Nathan Busch 2 1-2 6, Austin Shaffer 2 0-0 6, Garrett Baxter 1 1-2 3, Devin Digman 3 0-2 6, Tyler McClain 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 2-6 39.
COLUMBUS (61) ― (fgm ftm-fta pts) Ryan Schulte 3 0-0 6, Alex Campbell 1 2-4 4, Will Cotter 2 2-4 6, Austin Rennhack 0 0-2 0, Ayden Adam 1 0-0 2, Caden Brunell 2 0-0 6, Connor Schroeder 1 0-0 2, Ben Emler 11 12-14 35. Totals 21 16-24 61.
3-pointers: P 7 (Isaac Vorwald 3, Nathan Busch 2, Austin Shaffer 2), C 3 (Caden Brunell 2, Ben Emler 1). Total fouls: P 21, C 12. Fouled out: none.
Follow Mark McMullen on Twitter @mmcmull2 or contact him at 920-356-6754.
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