STREATOR – The Morris boys basketball team came out on the Pops Dale Gymnasium floor Saturday with more energy and focus than the Streator Bulldogs, and the visitors were rewarded with a lead that reached as many as a dozen points and stood at nine at halftime.
It was Streator that brought the energy and focus in the third quarter, digging out of that nine-point hole and piling up a lead that reached as many as seven in a 61-57 nonconference victory over its former conference rival.
“We came off a tough loss Thursday [at Reed-Custer] in overtime and came out soft tonight,” Bulldogs sophomore Matt Williamson said, “but then in the locker room for the second half we got fired up, just talked to ourselves about our mistakes. We came out, and we just pressured them.
“The energy that we gained from picking up full-court [defense] and getting steals and pressuring them, it softened them up to our pressure and fueled us more and more in the second half.”
Morris’ Jack Wheeler and Streator’s Christian Benning were quiet in the first quarter – Wheeler with two points and Benning with zero. They finished as the game’s two leading scorers and rebounders, however, with Wheeler (11 rebounds) scoring eight of his game-high 22 during a second quarter Morris dominated, and Benning (eight rebounds, four assists) popping in 10 of his team-high 21 in the decisive third quarter, when the Bulldogs outscored Morris 24-14 and took a slim lead they would not relinquish.
“That’s our third road game this week,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “I’m really proud of our guys’ resiliency and fight. When we shoot it, we can be pretty good, and when we’re not hitting 3s, we can struggle.
“We had a stretch of some charges where we didn’t jump-stop, and we let [Streator} get to the rim ... and gave up too many offensive rebounds, but I’m really proud of my guys. They worked their butts off.”
Brett Bounds (18 points), Gage Phillips (eight points, six rebounds), Jonah Williams (seven points, five rebounds) and Caston Norris (five assists) also were leaders for Morris (5-14).
For the Bulldogs (10-8), leaders beyond Benning included Williamson (five points, five assists, five rebounds), Landon Muntz (13 points, five rebounds), Logan Aukland (11 points), Nolan Lukach (five points, seven rebounds) and Quinn Baker (four key second-quarter points).
“Across the board this was a great game, a game where the crowd got energized in the second half, and so did we,” Streator coach Beau Doty said. “You’ve got to credit our kids for coming out, executing some things that we worked on in practice with our full-court pressure ... and fighting our way back into the game.”
Morris’ controlling of the second quarter included a pair of Bounds 3-pointers in addition to Wheeler’s big numbers, increasing the visitors’ advantage to 27-15 late in the period and back up to nine by the break.
Streator’s energy level and execution were noticeably stronger coming out of halftime – something Doty credited to his players and adjustments suggested by assistant coaches Bryan Park and Micah Mattingly – leading to a Benning-led 12-0 run that featured better offensive spacing, increased defensive pressure and the Bulldogs taking three momentum-seizing Morris charges.
The Bulldogs’ one-point lead entering the fourth quarter was challenged throughout the remainder but never erased, with back-to-back Aukland 3s and late free throws from Lukach, Williamson and Benning sealing the deal.
Morris outshot the Bulldogs 46.2% (24 of 52) to 38.5% (20 of 52) from the field, but made just 3 of 13 free-throw attempts compared to the hosts’ 15-of-21 free-throw shooting. Both teams committed 13 turnovers.
Streator hits the road Tuesday for an Illinois Central Eight Conference visit to Lisle.
Morris is scheduled back in action Tuesday against Interstate 8 Conference foe Ottawa for the start of a three-game homestand.