They started out playing nearly perfect basketball. Then held off a hard charging Rochelle team at the finish. What that amounted to was a 61-57 victory by the Redskins against the Hubs on Friday night.
Morris started with an opening frame in which it didn’t commit a single turnover while also shooting 6-of-14 from the field in building a 16-11 lead.
“We knew we had to come out strong and that’s exactly what we did,” Morris senior guard Jake Hogan said. “We matched their intensity.”
It was a much needed thing for the locals since they were without senior forward Ben Ortiz. He missed his second straight game because of an illness.
“It changes things a lot, but for the most part, we’re still the same team,” Hogan said. “Don’t get me wrong, he helps us out a lot, but it takes more than one person to make a team.”
Blumberg said that it’s been good to see the team pick up for his absence.
“Everyone’s energy has increased since his absence,” Blumberg said. “We’ve handled it about as well as expected.”
Hogan scored seven points in the opening quarter in which Morris built a five-point lead. Then by half it went to nine points as the Redskins were up 30-21 at the break.
“That was a good start, especially against a team that has a relentless press,” Blumberg said. “I think our triangle and two slowed the tempo a little in the first quarter, but then as the possessions started getting shorter and the pace increased, we turned it over more.”
Morris had a 48-38 lead at the end of the third quarter thanks in large part to sophomore Austin Patterson. He had 11 points in the quarter, including three, three-point field goals.
Rochelle did cut into the Morris lead in the third quarter, cut it down to two points three different times (52-50, 54-52, 56-54) before the hosts pulled away.
The last coming with :54 ticks remaining.
However, Redskins sophomore guard Evan Bjelland knocked down 5-of-6 free throws attempted down the stretch to help secure the win.
“He’s a very good free throw shooter ... better than most,” Hogan said.
Patterson ended with 18 points, Hogan 15, Bjelland 10 and Jason Matteson nine.
“That was good to see because both (sophomores) did have struggles with the ball in the second half,” Blumberg said. “They both showed great maturity, hitting big shots from behind the arc and at the free throw line.”