MONTICELLO — With Bismarck-Henning’s 2-3 zone slowing its offense down, Monticello used its defense to provide the spark it needed to pull out a home victory.
The Sages held the Blue Devils scoreless for an eight-minute stretch surrounding halftime, leading to a 15-0 run that kick-started a 45-33 Monticello win Friday night at Miller Gymnasium.
Sloppy play (11 turnovers) and cold shooting (below 40 percent most of the first half) bugged Monticello while B-H held a 12-9 lead midway through the second quarter. But the Sages’ defense stiffened and Ryan Donohue tied the game at 12, going coast-to-coast for a layup after securing a rebound. The 6-foot-2 senior guard scored again on a nice feed from Parker Trice to give Monticello a 16-12 lead as the Sages closed the half on a 7-0 run.
“We have to come out with a little bit more fire, a little bit more intensity,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said. “Part of it was we were kind of feeling them out to see where they were going to go (with the 2-3 zone), and the slower-paced game was playing to their benefit.
“We tried to speed it up more in the second quarter, and then we wanted to come out in the third quarter and speed it up again.”
The Sages did just that, capitalizing on more shots and fewer turnovers.
Senior Matt Kruse hit a 10-foot jumper from the baseline, Donohue swished a three and the two hooked up for a nifty Kruse lay-in on a feed from Donohue to build Monticello’s lead to double digits.
Austin Toler kept the Blue Devils in it, scoring 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting, but Monticello pulled away after the lead dwindled to four early in the fourth quarter.
“Once we got the lead we were able to slow it back down, and they couldn’t really execute their halfcourt offense,” Roy said. “They’re running time off the clock when we’re up eight points. We’re OK with that.”
Donohue and Kruse led Monticello with 12 points and four rebounds each. Junior Nick Stokowski (game-high eight rebounds) added all nine of his points in the second half. Seniors Bryan Phipps (seven points) and Isaac Bales (five) rounded out the scoring for the Sages.
“Donohue kind of had double duty tonight,” Roy said. “He was out there guarding Toler, chasing him around. He took the No. 1 defensive pull today and had to help us out on the offense. I hate to ask kids to do both of those, but he stepped up and got it done.”
Donohue barely left the court, playing 31 of 32 minutes.
“He’s just that type of athlete. When he works hard, when he goes at it, he is the dominant player on the court,” Roy said. “His teammates would follow him through a brick wall when he plays like that.”
Monticello (2-0) won’t get much time to rest, however, as the Sages face Pleasant Plains today at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. The Cardinals are the fifth-ranked team in Class 2A.
“It’s going to be a fun atmosphere. It’ll be a great environment for us, similar to last year when we went to Southern Illinois University at the Saluki Shootout,” Roy said. “Got some big-time schools coming in. It’s going to be a challenge for us. I don’t know if we’re playing our best basketball right now, but it’s still early in the season. It will be a good test to see where we’re at and see where we need to go.”