Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2013, 7:54 pm

Titans fend off Knoxville rally, finish strong for 2A regional-title repeat

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MONMOUTH -- After a fast and furious start, the Monmouth-Roseville Titans found themselves bogged down in the middle periods, and Knoxville tried to take advantage.

Down by 10 points at halftime of Saturday's Class 2A Monmouth-Roseville Regional boys' basketball final, the second-seeded Blue Bullets fought back to within single digits entering the fourth quarter at the Shoebox.

However, the top-seeded Titans weren't about to be denied their second straight regional championship. Finishing the game as strong as they started it, Monmouth-Roseville prevailed 62-41 to set up a Tuesday night Farmington Sectional matchup with Tremont.

"We got off to a quick start, but then we went a little flat on offense and struggled until the fourth quarter,'' said Mon-Rose coach Chuck Grant, whose club improves to 24-4. "We beat Knoxville by 30 in November, but we knew they'd be very improved since then, and I feel we are too. Today's game was very much what I expected.

"I've been fortunate to win a few regional titles, and it's never been easy.''

With the Knoxville defense collapsing on 6-foot-6 junior forward Trayvon Smith, holding him to nine points, the Titans used a balanced offensive attack to compensate. Liam Merritt's team-high 11 points were augmented by 10 apiece from Dillon Frieden and Martel Hunter, with Connor Gillen also tallying nine points and Dalton Hottle eight.

Having an extra day to prepare after the tournament was moved up due to the late-week snowstorm also proved beneficial for Mon-Rose.

"I thought it helped,'' said Grant. "We had a couple of guys banged up. Knoxville's got a lot of firepower, but I thought we defended them well.''

Indeed, the Blue Bullets showed that firepower in the person of Nolan Lewis and his game-high 18 points, which helped Knoxville close the gap to 39-33 entering the final quarter. At that point, Mon-Rose reasserted itself, outscoring the Bullets 23-8 to close the game.

"We had some foul trouble in the third quarter and early in the fourth,'' said Grant. "We went back to our `run and jump' for the last four minutes, and we put together a nice run after not getting anything to go for two quarters.''