CHICAGO – It took both the Morris and Seneca boys basketball teams a quarter to get accustomed to their surroundings Saturday afternoon.
And with good reason.
The Redskins and Fighting Irish squared off at the United Center, obviously a much larger venue than any of the players had ever played in before. Even though both Morris coach Joe Blumberg and Seneca coach Russell Witte reminded their players that the hoop was still 10 feet high and the free-throw line still 15 feet away and the game was still basketball, the players still seemed a bit starstruck. The score at the end of the first quarter, 4-2 in favor of Morris, reflected that situation.
“It took us awhile to get used to the place,” Morris center Tyler Spiezio said. “It’s big. But eventually we just got into the flow of the game and we were just playing basketball.”
Morris used its size and experience to secure a 46-32 win, evening its season record at 7-7 and bringing an end to a whirlwind two-week stretch.
“We have played eight games in the last 13 days,” Blumberg said. “I think our guys were a little mentally, emotionally and physically gassed. Add in playing in this building and you can understand the score at the end of the first quarter.
“But once the kids got hit with their first screen or got their first rebound or basket, they settled in and we played a pretty good game.”
Junior center Spiezio led Morris with 11 points and added five rebounds, while JaQuan Boxley scored 10 points and Matt Shaw scored nine. Payton Voitik added five points and five rebounds off the bench.
Morris turned up its defensive intensity in the second quarter, forcing Seneca into eight turnovers and leading to some easy baskets. Spiezio had six of his points in that quarter. The Redskins finished the first half with a flourish, as Shaw hit a 3-pointer from near the NBA line with 35 seconds left to play and Boxley had a steal and a layup with 12 seconds to go until halftime to put Morris ahead, 21-12, at intermission.
Still, Witte wasn’t about to have his young Irish give in.
“We counted and we missed five layups in the first half,” he said. “We did that, and we were down nine at halftime, so we thought we were playing pretty well. We were executing and getting the shots we wanted, but they just weren’t going in. That’s been our problem most of the year.
“We are playing with five sophomores up on the varsity and two of them are starting guys underneath. So sometimes the execution isn’t always there, but the experience they are getting will be invaluable to them as we move on.”
The Irish, who fell to 3-13, were led by Sam Grushkin’s 11 points, while Sean Baker, Sam Mitchell and Eric Bendt each scored five.
Shaw hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter, sandwiching them around a putback by Boxley, to push Morris’ lead to 29-18. Boxley then made a three-point play for a 32-20 Morris lead and the Redskins took a 34-24 lead into the fourth.
In the fourth, Seneca closed to within 39-32 with 2:13 to play on a pair of free throws by Grushkin, but Morris scored the final seven points of the game to provide the final margin.
Delaney Stutzki went 4 of 4 from the free-throw line, while Spiezio scored on a putback and Boxley added a free throw.
“We got going after a quarter,” Boxley said. “When Matt hit a couple threes, it opened things up in the middle to drive and pass. We played pretty good defense, too, and it was fun playing on this floor.”