MONTICELLO — Blue Ridge’s Michael Plunk was methodical attacking the hoop.
Mount Zion’s Colton Calhoun was hitting shots from all over the court.
Coaches often say fans watch the game while they’re watching the game within the game. Everyone in Miller Gymnasium saw that Wednesday night, when one of the area’s leading scorers went toe-to-toe with a Decatur-area product just now finding his groove in his senior season.
Braves guard Calhoun poured in a game-high 36 points while Plunk tried to keep pace with 30, but the Knights’ supporting cast was the difference in a 95-89 overtime win for Blue Ridge on the opening day of pool play at Monticello’s 15th annual Holiday Hoopla tournament.
Forwards Travys Nichols (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Clint O’Neal (14 points, 10 rebounds) finished with a double-double for Blue Ridge (8-3).
The Knights shot 65 percent for the game and 70 percent from the field in the second half and overtime to outlast Mount Zion (4-7), which set the blistering pace in the first half (59 percent) but trailed off after halftime (43 percent).
“They wanted to get a couple more stops than us. I don’t think either team played very well on defense, but they wanted to get more stops, and they did,” Braves coach Ryan Brown said. “We couldn’t guard eighth-grade girls tonight.”
The Braves opened the game with a 16-2 run in part because of their tough defense on the sharp-shooting Plunk. Mount Zion denied the Blue Ridge junior the ball, keeping a defender in his jersey the entire first quarter.
Plunk’s first points came with 5:15 remaining in the second quarter, but he still found a way to finish a remarkably efficient game shooting 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. Plunk sank 10 of 13 free throws and added four rebounds, four steals and four assists in 33 minutes.
“We’ve talked about how if teams start to shut down Michael we have other kids who can score,” Blue Ridge coach Kyle Watson said. “Don’t really want to be a one-man team because if a team shuts down our one guy, then we’re in trouble.”
But Mount Zion didn’t have an answer for Plunk’s smooth game. When asked about his defensive strategy to slow down Plunk, all Brown could do was laugh.
“I don’t want to talk about it because we didn’t do any of it,” he said. “It’s just embarrassingly poor defense. I don’t know how else to explain it. We didn’t do any of the things we practiced.”
Plunk’s big game would have been meaningless had Jon Jones not stepped up early. Playing in his first game since injuring his right knee weeks ago, the senior guard hit three treys in the first quarter — a personal 9-0 run — to cut the Braves’ lead to five and then found Nichols underneath on a nifty pass for a layup.
Just like that, the Knights were back in business.
“That’s huge for Jon,” Watson said. “He hasn’t played since he hurt his knee against Fisher.”
Blue Ridge trailed in the second quarter before Brown witnessed the event that led to the true momentum change.
“I thought the huge swing in the game was when we were up 11 and they get called for an intentional foul. We get two free throws and the ball and we come up empty, and they come down and score right away,” he said. “That was where we could have really started to put nails in the coffin in the first half.”
Jones finished with 15 points while Will Duggins (13 points, five assists) joined his four teammates in double figures.
The Knights play Ridgeview and Tuscola on Thursday to complete pool play. Two wins and Coach Watson’s squad will be in Friday’s prime-time championship game against the winner of the Purple Pool.
“It’s a credit to our kids,” Watson said. “We were down 16-2 in the first quarter. We very easily could’ve folded. We showed a lot of fight.”
GCMS 55, Sangamon Valley 40
Senior Ben Eads had a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds, and junior Wiley Hasty (10 points, eight rebounds) was two boards shy of a double-double in 14 minutes of action.
GCMS ended the first half with a 30-19 lead and held a double-digit advantage most of the second half.
The Falcons were crisp passing the ball, assisting on 13 of 26 made baskets. Junior Ross Royal dished a game-high three assists, and Nick Retherford, Reese Simpson and Drake Royal had two apiece in the victory.
“At times we moved the ball as well as we have all year,” GCMS coach Ryan Tompkins said.
The Falcons shot just under 40 percent from the field in the opening game of the Holiday Hoopla, the first time GCMS has participated in the tournament in nearly a decade.
“We played in a different tournament for the past nine years, and this is the first time I’ve ever been part of a quick comeback like that after Christmas,” said Tompkins, who is in his 10th year as Falcons coach. “I think our kids responded well. You could see both teams trying to find their legs early. Shots were dropping short. I thought we did a good job of getting the ball inside, getting some easy shots and getting our confidence going a little bit.”
Monticello 59, Neoga 51
The Sages jumped to leads of 7-0, 23-9 and 36-17 in the first half and coasted against the Indians.
Coach Kevin Roy went deep into his bench early, and 12 players saw time as Monticello built a 28-point lead midway through the third quarter.
“Coming off a day off with Christmas, you never know how the kids are going to respond, especially in the morning,” Roy said. “I thought our kids came out ready to play and took care of business.”
Junior Nick Stokowski led the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Seniors Bryan Phipps and Matt Kruse finished with 12 points apiece, and sophomore Daniel Caldwell hit two treys late to end with six points.
Neoga got most of its production from junior guard Jake Baker, who recorded a game-high 29 points including six three-pointers.
The Indians outscored Monticello 25-7 to cut the lead to 10 points with 11/2 minutes left, but the Sages held on.
Ridgeview 55, Tuscola 44
Trey McCormick notched a game-high 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting to lead Ridgeview to a Gold Pool win. William Tinsley added nine points for the Mustangs (9-2), Josh Weier eight, Matt Barnes seven, Cary Winterland six, Brock Heimer five and Will Weber four.
Senior Sharom Shabrou fell one rebound short of a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds for Tuscola (1-5).
Senior Dustin Haake added nine points.
GCMS 64, Neoga 59 OT
Eads added to his scoring total with 21 points and pulled down eight boards. The senior guard nailed 8 of 10 shots and went 5 of 6 from the free throw line.
Hasty (16 points) and Retherford (10) also were in double figures. GCMS led 22-18 at the half but was outscored 22-7 in the third quarter before tying the game in regulation. The Falcons hit 6 of 9 free throws to pull away in overtime.
Baker had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Indians.
Monticello 54, Sangamon Valley 40
Stokowski recorded another double-double (24 points, 11 rebounds) and Kruse chipped in 15 points to lead the Sages against an undersized Sangamon Valley squad.
The Sages (8-1) nearly held their second opponent to a scoreless quarter as the Storm (2-11) failed to put points on the board until 51.9 seconds were left in the opening quarter.
Sangamon Valley outscored Monticello 13-10 in the second period, but the Sages kept a 10-point lead throughout the second half.