DEKALB – The Moline boys' basketball team looked as if it had taken two steps forward with its insertion of two sophomores into its lineup upon arriving at the Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament before Christmas.|
However, a misstep by one of those sophs, Mitch Reeves, resulting in a rolled ankle during a Christmas Eve practice, might have made it look as if it was one step back as the Maroons pursued a pool-play crown on Wednesday afternoon.
Step one-and-a-half turned out quite well, though, with senior Derrick Stabler returning to the starting lineup to lead Moline to a 59-41 rout of Sterling at the DeKalb High gymnasium.
Stabler, who lost his starter's role to Reeves after the Maroons had lost five straight heading into the tourney, had his best game of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds in under three quarters of play.
"I just want to help the team as much as I can any way I can," said Stabler, a 6-foot-4 forward who was averaging 4.1 points per game going in.
As he and the Maroons tell it, though, it's not about who starts but how the team performs as a unit. That, says shooting guard Drew Owens, is the biggest change he's seen since the team has put together a 3-0 run at DeKalb in an attempt to defend its tournament title.
"The chemistry is a lot better," said Owens. "We're sharing the ball a lot more, getting open looks and having more confidence."
"Our guys were making good passes and we were getting good looks at the rim," added Stabler. "When we are playing as a team, we are playing at our best."
The Maroons now have themselves back to .500 at 6-6, with a Gold-round semifinal game at 5:30 tonight against 11-1 Hampshire, which survived with a 35-33 win over Geneseo in Wednesday's final pool-play game.
"At times we played really well," said Moline coach Jeff Schimmel, "and at times we threw it away too much (committing 21 turnovers to Sterling's 22). For the next game, we're going to have to play a lot better. The competition gets tougher."
Sterling (6-6) actually had it at a four-point game with 2:40 left in the first half at 22-18, but that's when Moline, and particularly Stabler, turned it on. Stabler had four of Moline's next seven points as the Maroons went on a 10-2 run to close out the half.
Moline upped the pressure in the third quarter. Sterling shot just 1-of-14 from the field as Moline more than doubled the Golden Warriors, 49-24 at the end of the frame.
From there, the Maroons played their reserves, with Tanner Logan and DeCarlos Flores getting eight and seven points, respectively. Logan also had six rebounds, matching starters Brandon Vice and Jed Wood as the team-high on the boards.
Wood also added 10 points, all in the first half.
The question now is whether the new-look-turned-somewhat-new-look Maroons can continue their success.
"For Reeves status, we don't know yet," said Schimmel. "It didn't look very good in practice and he stayed home" from Wednesday's game.
Yet another health factor for Moline is the elbow of Owens. He sported a full-arm brace against Sterling to help with a left-elbow stress fracture that will require a post-tournament fluid drain.
"I wear the sleeve as padding," said Owens, "and it was OK, except for the charge, that really hurt. We'll see how it heels after the tournament is over."
Though his six points was under his 12-point average, Owens still helped the Maroons in many ways. He led the team in assists with seven and steals with four. And, like the rest of the starters, he didn't play much of the second half.
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