MONTICELLO — Fans of the Sages received a late Christmas present Friday night.
Blue Ridge supporters, however, are checking the calendar to make sure it didn’t flip back two months to Halloween after Monticello turned in a performance that will haunt the Knights’ dreams for weeks, a 69-29 victory for the hosts in the title game of the 16th annual Sages’ Holiday Hoopla.
The tournament championship is Monticello’s first since 2007.
Monticello was firing on all cylinders right from the tip, racing to leads of 16-6, 32-13 and 40-21 at the half.
Junior Nick Stokowski scored 17 of his game-high 21 points in the first two quarters as the Sages (10-1) shot 67 percent from the field in the first half.
“We’ve been working up and getting better every single game. Everything has just been a preview, and this game just topped it off,” Stokowski said. “We’ve had a great tournament.”
Blue Ridge (10-4) couldn’t find any offense against the physical Monticello defense, and the Sages’ help defense shut down Knights junior Michael Plunk, who finished 1 of 9 from the field and a pair of free throws.
“Tremendous, tremendous team effort from top to bottom,” Monticello coach Kevin Roy said. “We had a tremendous defensive effort. We made Plunk work for everything; every touch we were right in front of him. When he beat us off the dribble we had a guy right there attacking him.”
It was apparent the night belonged to the Sages when senior Isaac Bales’ strip of Plunk at halfcourt led to a picturesque scene full of fans rising from their seats as he finished the breakaway layup with 30 seconds left in the first half and offered a series of fist pumps to the ecstatic Monticello bench.
Bales finished with six points and three assists, but it was the big men who wreaked havoc against Blue Ridge’s defense.
Seniors Bryan Phipps and Matt Kruse worked a nice high-low game early. Kruse found Phipps for the game’s first two buckets and Stokowski joined in on the paint action after Kruse went to the bench midway through the first period with two fouls.
“We tried to get touches inside, get position on them,” Stokowski said. “That’s what we wanted to do,” Roy said. “We knew our size was our strength on the inside with them, and that’s where we wanted to get the ball.
“Kruse got in early foul trouble, and we had to pull him out. Then we tried to spread the floor and just went to Phipps. Instead of feeding two big guys, we just started feeding one.”
Phipps and Kruse scored 10 points apiece and senior Ryan Donohue chipped in with 11, hitting two late threes to end an extended shooting slump for the 6-foot-2 guard.
Junior Will Duggins was the only Knights player who could find any offensive rhythm, finishing with 12 points before coach Kyle Watson pulled his starters late in the third quarter trailing by 29 points.
Blue Ridge went 3-1 in the tournament with wins against Mount Zion, Ridgeview and Tuscola.
“All the credit to Monticello. They’re a great team, and they proved why they’re a great team,” Watson said. “We talked before about how every tournament’s a measuring stick. We saw some good things, and we saw some things we need to work on to do better.
“If you’re going to have mistakes that you need to improve on, it’s better to find them in December than February and March.”
Mount Zion 55, GCMS 49
The Falcons jumped to a 17-9 lead after the first quarter but couldn’t hold on against Brody Rothrock (23 points) and the Braves.
Coach Ryan Tompkins’ squad led midway through the fourth quarter, but careless turnovers, tired legs and two dagger threes doomed the Falcons.
“We were on fumes that last whole quarter,” Tompkins said. “When you get tired, the mind gets a little tired.”
Ben Eads scored 22 points and was named to the all-tournament team. Wiley Hasty added 12 points for GCMS (5-8).
Ridgeview 47, Neoga 24
Cary Winterland, Trey McCormick, Matt Barnes, Josh Weier and William Tinsley all hit at least one of the Mustangs’ eight three-pointers in a blowout win in the fifth-place game.
Ridgeview outscored Neoga 24-0 from behind the three-point line.
Winterland hit four of those treys and finished with 13 points. Weier scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Mustangs (10-4).
Tuscola 58, Sangamon Valley 51
Sharom Shabrou recorded a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and nabbed five of Tuscola’s 11 steals to lead the Warriors to a seventh-place finish.
Tuscola took charge in the second quarter, outscoring Sangamon Valley 20-9 to take a 13-point lead into halftime.
Dustin Haake led all scorers with 20 points and Christian Wood added eight points for the Warriors (2-7).