EDGINGTON -- West Central North boys' basketball coaches talk all of the time about the importance of stealing victories on the road.|
In Monmouth-Roseville's Friday night showdown with first-place Rockridge before a full house, Titans junior guard Martel Hunter took that piece of coachspeak to heart with a superlative performance that helped lift his club to a 69-65 victory and a share of the WCC North lead.
Besides pouring in a team-high 27 points, Hunter also proved to be a master pickpocket Friday evening with 11 steals. Coupled with teammate Trayvon Smith's 14 points and five rebounds, Hunter was able to counter a 27-point, 14-rebound, six-block night by Rockridge's junior star Ethan Happ.
"I would see what they were running the first time, and if they kept doing it, I'd anticipate it and go for the steal,'' said Hunter, who also came up big at the free-throw line by hitting six in a row after Happ's coast-to-coast dunk brought the Rockets to within 63-60 with 18 seconds left to play.
"The biggest factor for us was hitting free throws (Mon-Rose hit just 11 of 27)," Hunter said. "That's a major thing in a big game like this, and I was telling my teammates to give me the ball.''
Friday's win not only enabled Monmouth-Roseville to avenge an earlier 62-56 setback to the Rockets at the Shoebox, but left both clubs with identical records of 20-4, 7-2 in league play. Rockridge closes conference play next Friday at Macomb, the same night the Titans host Sherrard, which topped Illini West 71-70 to prevent a three-way logjam.
"Coach (head coach Toby Whiteman) said that if we win at Macomb, we can still (at least) tie for the West Central title, and then we can use that to turn around and play well in regionals,'' said Happ, who scored 14 of his points in the fourth quarter to fuel the hosts' comeback after Mon-Rose went up 56-44 midway through the period.
"You hate to lose on Senior Night. That was the hardest thing, because we wanted to play and win for them. Coming out, we didn't play strong enough, and we let them kick us in the mouth.''
After the Titans grabbed an early 10-6 lead, Rockridge responded by reeling off 10 straight points to retake the momentum. But in a sign of things to come, Mon-Rose's Joe Colclasure drained a 3-pointer with eight seconds on the clock to close the gap to 16-13.
That shot gave the Titans renewed energy as Hunter started to make his presence felt in the second quarter. He had a trio of steal-and-layup plays in that period alone as Monmouth-Roseville worked its way to a 28-25 halftime edge.
Smith's play was also key in the first half. Held scoreless because of foul trouble in the teams' first meeting at Monmouth, he scored 10 of his 14 points in the opening half to keep the pressure off Hunter's shoulders.
"We just had to execute the game plan that we'd worked on all week,'' said Smith. "We didn't talk about revenge. We just wanted to come back and get a win.''
Things didn't get much better for the Rockets in the second half. Despite an additional 17 points from Bryan Heath and T.J. Henry's eight points, seven boards and five steals, the hosts found themselves down by as much as 11 in the third quarter before a late trey by Nyle Stevens made it a 47-39 game with eight minutes remaining.
"We did our best to try and come back but they hit some shots and knocked down some free throws to keep us out of it,'' said Heath. "But, coach talked about how we'd rather lose now, then hopefully take them on in the sectionals and beat them there.''
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