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Second half surge drives Seneca to advance to regional championship

PRINCETON – Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to loosen up at the start of the postseason. Take a look at the Seneca boys basketball team as a case in point.

Tight at the start, the Fighting Irish trailed Prophetstown by four at the end of the first quarter, then settled in for a 60-34 victory at the Class 2A Princeton Regional on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a matter of relaxing because the kids have set lofty goals,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said. “For them to do that, the kids need to just relax.”

Seneca was up at the onset only to see the Prophets turn that around.

“The start wasn’t bad. We were up 6-0, but in the first quarter we weren’t going to the glass,” Seneca coach Russell Witte said. “That hurts because then we don’t get extra possessions.”

Seneca also turned the ball over six times in the first quarter and went on to trail Prophetstown, but then turned it over just seven more times the rest of the game.

“It didn’t feel like that,” Seneca senior Conlan Callahan (24 points) said about the early miscues. “That’s because when we do have turnovers we get right back up. I think a lot of that was us trying to make things happen. We weren’t worried at that point.”

That’s because the team, and specifically guard Alex Bott (14 points), was playing solid defense at the same time.

“In the second quarter we picked it up defensively,” Witte said. “We took away their primary target in Ethan Howard and you can tell that it got inside their [Prophets’] heads. Bott made it a point in the second half that Howard was not going to score.”

Seneca’s second-quarter turnaround led to a 22-17 lead and then the Irish shook loose in the second half.

“In the second half we did a much better job of attacking their zone,” Witte said. “Their 1-3-1. We were attacking and getting layups.”

Falling shots that helped Seneca further settle in.

“When guys are hitting big shots, when it happens like it did tonight, we are going to get going like we did,” Callahan said. “It was good to see us step up in the second half.”

Seneca (23-5), who led 40-30 after three quarters, outrebounded Prophetstown 31-18 on the night and converted 22-of-45 shots from the field on the night.

The Irish will be back in Princeton for the championship at 7 p.m. Friday night.

“Now we’re coming back on Friday to see if we can put another bar on the wall,” Witte said.

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