Morris boys hand Ottawa first loss

Redskins win second straight, still unbeaten in I-8

MORRIS – For the second straight game, the Morris boys basketball team on Friday night worked as a cohesive unit, allowing the Redskins to hand previously undefeated Ottawa its first loss. Morris got 23 points from junior Myles Johnston and 16 from senior Colin Cummings to offset 27 from Ottawa’s Anthony Cooper as the Redskins (2-1, 2-0) beat the Pirates (6-1, 4-1) 55-46 in Interstate 8 Conference action.

Besides scoring 23 points, Johnston shared the defensive duties on Cooper with senior Nathan Jepson, who also scored eight points.

“Cooper is a stud, that’s for sure,” Johnston said. “I got pretty tired from chasing him around, but Nathan came in and did a great job when I had to rest.

“And the rest of the guys made sure we shut everyone else down so that Cooper couldn’t beat us.”

Meanwhile, the Morris offense put forth another solid effort, getting scoring from various options. In Wednesday’s win over Plano, Patrick McPherson and Zack Romak combined for 41 points. Friday night, they combined for one, but Johnston, Cummings and Jepson picked up the slack, scoring 45 of Morris’ 55 points.

“We have good chemistry on the floor,” Jepson said. “We have been kind of waiting for this junior and senior class to be on the varsity together. We have played a lot together and we work well together.”

The Redskins knew Ottawa was coming into the game undefeated and had designs to put a blemish on that mark.

“We knew they were a good team, undefeated coming in,” Johnston said. “We just thought, ‘Why not us?’ ”

The game did not start out as an upset in the making, as Cooper scored 10 of Ottawa’s first 13 points. His dunk on a fast break midway through the first quarter put the Pirates ahead, 13-3. Morris answered by sandwiching a 3-pointer by Johnston and a free throw by Aidan Romak around a fast-break basket by Cooper to cut the lead to 15-7 entering the second quarter.

From then on, it was all Morris.

The Redskins held the Pirates to seven points in the second quarter and managed to take a 23-22 lead into halftime, ending the first half on a 6-0 spurt on baskets by Jepson and Henry Hansen (off an assist from Jepson) and a putback basket by Aidan Romak.

“We didn’t guard the ball very well the entire night,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “Most of the night, we were taking the ball out of the net and were forced to run our half-court offense, which isn’t what we want to do. We were on our heels defensively.

“We definitely need to find more balance, but give credit to [Morris coach] Joe [Blumberg] and his team. The more aggressive, hungrier team won tonight.”

The game was tied at 25 and 28 early in the third quarter before Morris took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Johnston. That was followed by a short jumper by Cummings, a free throw by Jepson and a steal and layup by Johnston to put Morris ahead, 36-28, with 2:54 to play in the third. The two teams traded baskets before Cooper finished the third quarter with a pair of buckets to cut the Redskins’ lead to 38-34 entering the fourth.

Jepson opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer and, after a free throw by Ottawa’s Levi Sholders, Johnston scored on a drive to make it 43-35 at the mask timeout with 4:43 to play. Ottawa then got a basket by Anthony Miller and a 3-pointer by Luke Cushing to pull to within 43-40, but that was as close as the Pirates got the rest of the way.

“I thought we were more physical after the first quarter and hit the glass hard,” Blumberg said. “Nathan Jepson and Myles Johnston switched off and guarded Cooper much better in the second half.

“The fact that we had entirely different leading scorers tonight than we had against Plano goes to the selfless nature of our players, especially against a tough team like Ottawa. On most teams, no matter the sport, everyone wants more. In football, the running back wants more carries; in baseball, guys want to hit cleanup; and in basketball, everyone wants more shots. But our guys don’t seem to care about that, and they just distribute the ball to who’s open. Our guys are willing to learn and listen when we have our film sessions and what little practice we can have.”

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years. He is currently also writing news for the Morris Herald-News.