The Morris Redskins got their 15th win of the season in style on Senior Night against the Northern Illinois Big 12 East leading Kaneland Knights with a 50-46 victory on Friday in front of a capacity crowd in Morris.
It was the final home game of the year for Morris’ three seniors: Ben Ortiz, Jason Matteson and Jake Hogan. And with Ortiz, Morris leading scorer, still sidelined with mononucleosis, the Redskins were able to pull out the dramatic win.
Kaneland got off to a blazing start on the road and deflated an energized Morris student section by jumping out to a 12-3 lead. The Knights hit five of their first six shots from the floor, including a pair from junior point guard Drew David, the second of which forced a Morris timeout with 2:14 to play in the first quarter.
David would finish the game with a team-high 12 points.
Despite getting outrebounded 10-2 in the first half and turning the ball over nine times, the Redskins were able to finish the half with the lead only in double digits (27-18). The Knights did turn the ball over nine times, as well, but it felt like a lost opportunity for Kaneland head coach Brian Johnson.
“I was happy with what we did in the first half, but the second quarter worried me a little bit because they started making some threes, and the goal was to force them to drive,” Johnson said.
After playing rather lackadaisically on Tuesday night in a home loss to Streator, and getting off to another slow start against one of the conference’s best teams, Morris found a much needed energy boost coming out of the second half. The Redskins made their first four shots from the field; including a pair of trifectas from sophomore forward Austin Patterson.
Patterson would lead Morris with 16 points on the night, and Morris was able to pull into a 38-38 tie going into the fourth quarter.
“It was a heck of a pregame speech, huh?” Morris head coach Joe Blumberg said sarcastically when asked about the tale of two halves. “Adjustments were critical (to our second half success). We shot zero free throws in the first half, and that’s not an officiating comment, it’s a lack of aggressiveness comment.
“I thought us attacking the basket opened up some perimeter shots, and then once we started hitting perimeter shots they started face-guarding and that opened the lanes back up. I thought that ability to score inside and outside was the difference.”
Another critical piece of Morris’ second half surge was the play of junior center Ned Kneller. After the Redskins grabbed just two rebounds as a team in the first 16 minutes, Kneller snared nine unofficial second half boards.
“We needed somebody inside to pull down rebounds in the second half, and he was phenomenal,” Blumberg said of Kneller.
In the fourth quarter, Morris was able to able to pull out to a bit of a lead. Matteson, normally a perimeter threat, was able to get to the rim at will in the second half, and though he finished with just 10 points, all his production seemed to come at critical junctions.
Meanwhile, the Knights struggled to pull within two possessions the majority of the final quarter until a bucket by junior forward John Pruett would pull Kaneland to within two with 1:03 to play. However, Morris was able to eat clock and make free throws down the stretch.
David drilled a long three with just five seconds to play that cut the lead to 50-48 with five seconds to play, but Morris was able to successfully in-bound the ball forcing Kaneland to foul.
With Morris in the double-bonus, Matteson stepped to the line in his final home game and drilled the pair to salt away the victory.
“It felt really good,” Matteson said. “Right before (his first attempt) there was a little miscommunication on the subbing, and I ended up just taking a moment to look around and look at the place and see how packed it was. I was liking seeing everyone in Morris come out and watch us play.”