Struggling to rebound

(Scott Belt photo for the Morris Daily Herald)
Jason Matteson of Morris is heavily guarded by DeKalb defenders during a 55-37 win for the Redskins Saturday night.

After a heartbreaking loss to Kaneland in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East opener, the Morris Redskins boys basketball team rebounded with its first conference win of the season, edging the DeKalb Barbs by a score of 55-37 on Saturday night.

Exactly two weeks after playing for the football team in the Class 5A state championship game, Morris senior guard Jake Hogan paced the Redskins with 13 points. After spending a 14-week season on the gridiron, he said it just felt good to get back into the swing of basketball season.

“I was a little hesitant before this game, because coming back from football it’s a little tough getting into basketball shape and getting your rhythm down,” Hogan said. “There’s still a large amount of fatigue, you could say. At the end of the game, I was dead.

“I feel like it takes about two weeks – running wise, and about the same for shooting – to get back into basketball shape.”

Fellow football player and backcourt member Jason Matteson knocked down a trio of three pointers on his way to 11 points in spite of a lingering shoulder injury, while senior forward Ben Ortiz added 12 points for the Redskins. Meanwhile, DeKalb center Jake Smith scored the Barbs’ first nine points en route to a 15 point performance.

Unfortunately for DeKalb, there wasn’t really a compliment to Smith’s scoring, as Morris held the Barbs to 27 percent shooting from the field. Morris, on the other hand, was getting shots to fall and hit 47 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc to help nullify DeKalb out-rebounding the Redskins 33 to 24.

“We felt like the game was going to boil down to rebounding,” Morris head coach Joe Blumberg said. “They run flex quite a bit, and we felt that we could defend that well and take away some of their counters, but Smith was a load inside. He’s a big body and if he establishes himself inside, you’re not moving him and he showed some decent touch from the perimeter.”

Tasked with guarding the 6-6 280 pound DeKalb center were junior bigs Tanner Sampson and Ned Kneller, and though they had their struggles keeping Smith off the glass, they both logged meaningful minutes. Sampson chipped in eight points for the Redskins while Kneller would add three points of his own and provide a spark defensively, matching his own 6-6 frame with Smith’s.

“They’re critical to our success,” Blumberg said of his junior post players. “Obviously the targets are on Ortiz, Matteson, and Hogan, and then (Austin) Patterson went off for 18 and 20 in the first few games, so he has a little target on him. But we need to be more balanced, and I thought Tanner Sampson hit some big shots, and Ned hit some big shots.”

The Redskins are admittedly a more perimeter-oriented team this year in comparison to years past, and by hitting 48 percent of their field goals on Saturday night, the Redskins were able to counteract the size disparity. However, in the future, on nights when the shots aren’t falling, expect the Redskins to rely on the type of stingy defense they played on Saturday night.

“People who watched the Kaneland-Morris game (a 32-31 loss) probably said that we put offense back a few decades,” Blumberg joked. “But that’s two straight conference games where we’ve held teams in the 30s. Our defense should never have an off night. We banked in a three tonight and we got seven points at the buzzer in the first, second and third quarter, but you’re not gonna get those every night so our identity has to be team defense and rebounding.”

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