SHABONNA — Down 12 points at halftime to a steady Morris team, it would have taken some exceptional play from Hinckley-Big Rock to reverse the deficit.
Unfortunately for the Royals, a stout performance in the second half was simply not extraordinary enough as Morris rolled to the finish line 52-38.
“We got down to an 11-0 hole,” HBR head coach Seth Sanderson said. “From there, we started chipping back and played pretty even with them the rest of the way.”
When Rich Hintzche hit a three-pointer on the Royals’ opening play of the second half, a window opened. When he converted an and-one layup a few plays later, it widened. With every Hinckley jumper, though, the Morris front court came back.
“We didn't close very well,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “We’re missing four guys right now, including our point guard, so it was a good opportunity to get some other guys some key minutes where maybe, the outcome is potentially still in jeopardy.”
Size, specifically from seniors Colby Kingsbury and Ovahdyah Ben-Israel, was a weapon that Morris returned to time and again. Second-chance balls, tipped rebounds, and post-ups were areas that Morris soundly dominated. Kingbury finished with eight points and five rebounds, while Ben-Israel added seven points. Colin CUmmings led Morris with 15 points, with Barry Amiano scoring eight. Evan Briones had six points and four assists, Nathan Jepson and Nathan Lobb each scored four points, while Gabe Huffman and Jace Pruim each had a point and two assists.
“They have big size,” Sanderson said. “There was times we just didn't do quite a good enough job of getting around and getting in front of them and denying that catch. Once they get a catch in the paint, it's downhill from there.”
Sanderson tried everything to mitigate his roster’s size disadvantage. Getting guards like Hintzcshe and Carson Pickert downhill with screens helped; the pair scored nearly every point for the Royals down the stretch. He played center Hunter Swanson on the perimeter, forcing Kingsbury to step away from the paint.
“That's what we were trying to do,” Sanderson said. “If we can spread them out and try to attack them off the dribble, we felt like we had a better chance.”
“I'll give Seth a lot of credit,” Blumberg said. “Seeing them at Plano, they've improved a lot there. That guys play hard defensively. They caused us some fits. Number five [Pickert] drove it pretty well and 24 [Hintzsche] hit some shots.
Yet, H-BR was still down 11 entering the fourth quarter, a margin they could not recover from.
Still, Sanderson and his team are choosing to look at the positives.
“All we ask with any team, any experience to just play our best in February so we are ready to go for regionals. So, I’ve been really happy with how much they've improved. Great attitude, great work ethic.”
As both teams look ahead to their regional groups, Saturday was a time of education.
“We just had six straight road games and went 4-2 in that stretch,” Blumberg said. “So, to gut out four wins out of those six will give us a little momentum, I hope, and build some mental toughness to handle some hostile environments.”
“Well, I thought we came into the conference play seeded where we should be, based on how we were playing, but thought we outplayed that seed pretty well,” Sanderson said. “We were able to upset Serena and played Indian Creek pretty tough for about a half. So, it's figuring out how to play that fourth quarter now, whether it's the first one or the last one, string them all together.”