MONTICELLO — After Meridian forward Brandon Barnes hit a game-winning jumper with 0.8 second left to give Monticello its first conference loss Friday, Sages coach Kevin Roy hoped his team would use that as motivation and bring a higher level of energy at home against Tuscola.
Roy didn’t see signs of that spark until the second quarter when Monticello limited the Warriors to four points and built a 20-point lead into the third, holding Tuscola scoreless the first 5:19 after halftime in a 63-37 win.
Tuscola (3-11, 1-4 Okaw Valley) hung tough in a first quarter that saw three ties. Monticello (14-2, 4-1) didn’t grab its first lead until 2:50 left in the period.
“With Friday night’s loss I had hoped that would motivate us to come out and play harder rather than come out and play relaxed,” Roy said.
Zach Bates completed the Warriors’ solid effort in the opening eight minutes, stealing a pass and banking in a halfcourt shot as the buzzer sounded, pulling Tuscola to within two points.
Monticello turned the ball over six times in the first quarter.
“It was a slow start. We didn’t come out ready to play and just grinded it out,” Roy said. “I thought we had been doing a nice job defensively until the last two games here.”
The Sages cranked up the defensive intensity in the second half, and Bryan Phipps (11 points) got them going offensively with a bucket off a feed from Ryan Donohue and an offensive putback on the first two possessions.
Tuscola didn’t score until freshman Nick Bates sank two free throws at the 3:01 mark.
“You have to give Monticello credit,” Tuscola coach Matt Franks said. “They did a tremendous job rebounding the ball.”
The third quarter started much like the second, only it was Monticello’s Isaac Bales putting on an offensive show. The senior point guard hit a pair of free throws to open the quarter and then swished two threes for a personal 8-0 spurt that gave the Sages their largest lead of the game at 39-21.
Bales finished with 12 points. Junior Nick Stokowski poured in a game-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for Monticello.
Dustin Haake led Tuscola with nine points while Dan Yoakum added eight and Nick Bates had six after racking up 15 in a win Friday at Warrensburg-Latham.
Franks said Bates, a freshman, will only continue to get better.
“It’s just a gradual progression getting him comfortable and relaxed in attacking and playing,” Franks said. “He’ll be a player for us.”