PLANO – Three of the four local boys basketball coaches who participated in the 51st annual Plano Christmas Classic enter 2014 happy with their team’s most recent performances.
Morris, Newark and Seneca all outplayed their seeds at the tournament, which wrapped up earlier this week. Sixth-seeded Morris finished second, eighth-seeded Seneca was fifth and 13th-seeded Newark, which did not get a first-round bye, placed seventh. Third-seeded Coal City was the one exception to the local success, finishing eighth.
The one negative for Morris is that it exited the tournament, and thus enters the unofficial second half of the season, on a sour note. Top-seeded Ottawa defeated the Redskins, 68-50, in the championship game late Monday night. Morris coach Joe Blumberg was asked if the tournament was still a net positive after the loss.
“It is. Right now it’s not, but this will be a great, great learning experience for us,” Blumberg said. “To play in this atmosphere ... playing against a fundamentally sound, very talented team, we gotta learn from some of our mistakes and move forward into the new year.”
Thirteen games remain on the regular-season schedule, but the Redskins will get another crack at Ottawa this season. The teams will play Feb. 25 in Morris in what is the second-to-last regular-season game for the Redskins.
Blumberg was asked Monday what, if anything, is correctable for Morris in order for it to close the gap on the Pirates in the future.
“For some reason, we tried to become shot-blockers tonight. We played behind in the post, which is something we never want to allow,” Blumberg said. “We have counters when teams overplay and take some things away that we didn’t get to, that we didn’t execute, and we need to clean some of those things up over the next two months.”
Of more immediate concern to Morris is its next game, which is tonight at Seneca. The Redskins will face a team that, like their own, lost only to Ottawa while at Plano. Seneca had blowout victories over Mendota and Newark before ending the tournament with a 55-53 win Monday over Yorkville.
“We took a good 4A team, and for two-and-a-half, three quarters of it, we were dominating both sides of the floor,” Seneca coach Russell Witte, “and then we just, not really got complacent, but just mentally checked a little bit out. And to do a lot of that with Conlan [Callahan] on the bench [with foul trouble] for the whole second half.”
Callahan had fouled out when Ben Barnett made a last-second 3-pointer to defeat Yorkville. Had Callahan been on the floor, Witte said Carter Gallick still would have brought the ball up the floor, but that Callahan would likely would have been stationed in the corner, where Barnett was instead.
“You never know when postseason happens, with these emphasis the way they are now, we might have somebody else in foul trouble. Someone else is gonna have to step up and get the job done,” Witte said. “We’re not a one-man team, and it might hurt us in terms of All-Tournament recognition type of things, but as long as we keep winning games, I don’t care.”
Newark’s only two losses at Plano were to Aurora Christian, which it had defeated earlier, and to Seneca in an effort that was less positive than its others.
“Kaneland’s a good quality team. We played [Hinckley-Big Rock], we played pretty well. Again it was a good game,” Newark coach Rick Tollefson said. “Aurora Christian, they got us down 12-0 and that was pretty much the game. But then Seneca just put it on us. We’re a young team. Let’s forget about a game.”
What was a poor finish for one local team was a great way to end the tournament for another. Newark’s 56-55 defeat of Coal City on Monday afternoon was a win for the Class 1A Norsemen against a 2013 Class 3A regional champion.
“Good composure at the end. A couple of things went wrong for us, but they held on. It’s a good win,” Tollefson said. “Last year, and the year before, sometimes without that true point guard, we would tend to just panic, and I thought the kids did a really nice job.”
Coal City did outscore Newark, 32-26, in the second half of their game, putting a thin silver lining on an otherwise poor ending to Coal City coach Brad Boresi.
“Right now, we’re just making it tough on ourselves because we’ve dug ourselves a hole,” Boresi said. “In all four games, we’ve managed to come back. As bad as we played in the first half today, to still have a shot at the end to win the game, I can’t knock the effort we had in the second half.”
Coal City got more than a week off after the loss until its next game, which is Tuesday against Morris.
“I’d much rather have [a losing streak] here than a three-game stretch in our [Interstate Eight] conference season, but at the same time, I think I found some things out at the tournament too,” Boresi said. “It wasn’t just a 1-3 finish and everything was bad for us.
“I think I found some guys who can play in certain situations. I thought Nick Micetich did a nice job, stepped up and hit some big shots for us, getting pretty much his most varsity time he’s had all year as a sophomore. That was a bright spot. Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a complete failure, but it wasn’t the best of showings for us.”