BISMARCK — At no point Tuesday did Deon Mennenga tell his boys' basketball team the news of the day.
During the pregame, it was an intentional decision. He didn't want the Bismarck-Henning players celebrating their first appearance this season in the Class 2A state rankings minutes before a pivotal Vermilion Valley Conference game.
After his Blue Devils dispatched Georgetown-Ridge Farm for the third time, 69-56 — a team that is unbeaten against all opponents but B-H — there was a different reason for not discussing the poll, which was released earlier Tuesday.
"I forgot," he said.
The 10th-ranked Blue Devils (21-2) had no troubles remembering the game plan against the Buffaloes (19-3).
"We needed to stop the penetration and keep our poise," Mennenga said. "We did the right things most of the time."
On a night all five starters scored in double figures, B-H was at its best in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils had no turnovers during the final eight minutes and hit 10 of 12 free throws, including 6 of 6 by Tanner Ribbe in the last 52.7 seconds.
"We shoot a ton of free throws every day," Mennenga said, "and we shoot them after we've run, so we're tired. In game situations, that helps."
B-H built a 14-point lead (46-32) in the third period, but Matthew Hay tried to rally G-RF. He scored 14 consecutive points in the final quarter — including three three-pointers — as G-RF cut its deficit into single digits.
"We went stagnant for a while, and Matt did a good job of creating for himself," G-RF coach Adam Latoz said.
Hay finished with a game-high 24 points. His only other teammate in double figures was Korie Vire (12 points).
Ribbe led the Blue Devils with 18 points, including a 10-point outburst in less than a four-minute stretch of the first half. Austin Toler scored 16 points, Stephen Krout 14 (on 6-of-7 accuracy), Chase Connelly had 11 and Krystian Ingram 10.
B-H's ability to take care of the ball was what most impressed Latoz.
"What makes them a tough team is they don't turn it over much," he said.
The Blue Devils scored the game's first six points against an opponent they have beaten by double-figure margins in all three matchups, but G-RF rallied to take its only lead (13-12) on a layup by Andy Cravens 20 seconds before the opening quarter ended.
Ribbe's buzzer-beating shot from the lane lifted B-H into a 14-13 lead after eight minutes.
G-RF attempted 27 of its 47 shots from three-point range. Hay nailed five treys, and Vire hit three.
Mennenga couldn't find fault with the B-H defense.
"To their credit, they stepped out further and hit 'em," Mennenga said.
B-H moved a step closer to the Vermilion Valley title with the win, which Mennenga said was "huge." G-RF, ranked 18th this week in 2A, could have tied for first place with a victory.
"They'll be a tough team for someone to beat in the rest of their games," Mennenga said. "It's hard to adjust to speed like that, and they are relentless."
Prior to the game, the coach's focus was on not overlooking the Buffaloes.
"We decided we wanted this game to be affirmation of the county title," he said. "We didn't want people thinking we backed into it."