EDGINGTON -- After beating reigning West Central North champion Monmouth-Roseville earlier in the week, Carthage Illini West was a team that caught the Rockridge Rockets' collective attention.|
"That told us that right now, Illini West is going to be a better team,'' said Rockridge sophomore guard Bryan Heath. "We just wanted to come out, get a good win and make sure we're the best in the conference.''
With Heath hitting 10-of-15 shots for a game-high 26 points, seconded by another dominant performance in the paint by junior forward Ethan Happ, the Rockets accomplished their goals Friday night as they blitzed the Chargers 62-42 to stay perfect at 7-0 and take sole possession of the WCC North lead at 3-0.
"Like Coach (Toby) Whiteman says, we're playing our game, and you always want to get better,'' Heath said. "Even with this game, you can always find ways to do better.''
Posting his sixth double-double in seven games, Happ seconded Heath in the scoring column with 23 points and snared a game-high 18 rebounds. In fact, Happ outboarded the entire Illini West (2-1, 2-1 WCC North) squad, which got 16 from 11 players.
"Being able to drive and have someone with good hands like Ethan, we can kick it in to him and he can finish with his strength and length,'' said Heath, who also snared five rebounds. "I can get the wide-open 3-pointers, and there's definitely places when I can flash to the basket.''
With a large crowd taking in Friday's key early-season contest at the Rockets' pad, both clubs struggled to find the mark in the first quarter. Overcoming six turnovers in the first eight minutes, Rockridge used a three-point play by Heath in the closing seconds to take a 13-6 lead.
After missing seven of their first eight shots in the second period, the Rockets used a Heath 3-ball to catch fire, using a 10-2 run to open up a double-digit lead en route to a 29-15 halftime advantage.
"It's one of those games with a packed house, Friday night, and both teams undefeated,'' said Whiteman. "It (the first quarter) was the feeling-out stage; no one tried to deliver the knockout punch. Like with Orion (a 71-47 win this past Tuesday), it was about recognizing what they were doing. Illini West threw a lot of different things at us, but our guys did a good job of recognizing them.
"Nyle (Stevens) played unbelievable defense for us, and we got some good bench production from Nick Madison and Darren Southwell. Our other guys can put themselves in position to prove they can be a threat if teams try to gear up on stopping (Happ and Heath).''
Rockridge continued to turn up the heat in the second half, building a 17-point third quarter lead before the Chargers cut it down to 44-30 by the period's end. After a 3-pointer by Illini West's Brayden Carroll made it a 44-33 game, the Rockets were able to thwart any comeback prospects as Heath and Happ combined for 14 fourth-quarter points.
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