ALEDO -- Tyson Nylin fully acknowledges the Mercer County boys' basketball team consistently hit shots and controlled the boards on Tuesday, but he would not say those were the reasons it won.|
"It was the defense," the Mercer County junior guard said.
In the second half, that was obvious.
A back-and-forth contest destined to be a thriller turned into a laugher when the Golden Eagles forced Ridgewood into a straitjacket. Fourth-seeded Mercer County limited the fifth-seeded Spartans to two field goals in the final 13 minutes, carrying it to a 67-49 win in the Lincoln Trail Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
"We just came out in the second half and put it to them on the defensive end," Nylin said. "We sometimes made them force bad shots."
From the Ridgewood (11-10) perspective, that appeared valid.
"We forgot how to run an offense," said Ridgewood coach Casey Adamson, who received 20 points from sophomore guard Ridge Greenman. "In the second half, their defensive pressure kept us from running our sets."
Midway through the third quarter, the game already had nine ties and 11 lead changes before Nylin gave Mercer County a 44-43 lead with a pair of foul shots. After that, the Spartans hit two of their final 18 shot attempts and committed seven turnovers.
Through two and a half quarters, they converted half of their 30 attempts from the field.
"Maybe after hitting as many as they did in the first half, (their shooters) got tired," said Mercer County coach Brian Hutton, whose team meets top-seeded Wethersfield in Friday's first semifinal at 6 p.m. "Our defense did a better job of forcing them a little further out from the basket. Some of the kids who were hitting shots earlier weren't getting the looks they were getting in the first half."
Better containment on the ball screens that moved the Spartans away from the basket allowed Mercer County (13-8) to surrender 15 second-half points. The Golden Eagles also forced off-balanced looks by keeping the perimeter guarded.
With the defense in control, the offense remained consistent. Nylin scored a game-high 29 points, Brandon Butcher added 13 more and Tanner Matlick tallied 17 rebounds and 10 points.
"Kids were aggressive," Hutton said. "We did a much better job attacking the basket in the second half."
However, defense was the most talked-about topic after the game. A dominating stretch such as that one provides more confidence for a team that already had some swagger of being the tournament host.
"If we play hard, we'll have a good chance to win," Nylin said. "We've got to come out hard and play with defensive intensity."
Geese soar into semifinals: Seven players scored at least five points for top-seeded Wethersfield in its 66-40 quarterfinal win over No. 8 Annawan in Kewanee.
"It was a total team effort," Wethersfield coach Jeff Parsons said. "Great balance. It was one of our better games we played."
Trevor Lay and Matt Jenkins each had 12 points for the Flying Geese (19-3) as they move into the semifinals. Michael Smith paced Annawan with 17 points and 16 rebounds.
The other semifinal pairs second-seeded Galva with third-seeded Stark County. The Wildcats topped West Central, 70-55, and Stark County earned a 38-33 win over ROWVA.
All semifinals finals will be played at Mercer County.
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