MORRIS – Since the 2007-08 school year, Joe Blumberg has been an ever-present fixture and the guiding light of the Morris varsity boys basketball team.
His 16-year journey as head coach, mentor, friend, confidant and many other adjectives that the hundreds of players that have passed through Blumberg’s programs over the years could attest to, finally reached a huge milestone.
Led by senior Gage Phillips’ game-high totals of 16 points and 10 rebounds, along with sophomore Jack Wheeeler’s 11 points and seven boards, Morris completed a well-rounded performance that earned a dominating 57-33 Interstate 8 Conference victory over the Ottawa Pirates on Tuesday evening inside Morris gymnasium.
It also would prove to be the 200th win of Blumberg’s respected career. Blumberg is 10 wins shy of the school’s all-time record for coaching wins.
“[Blumberg] really coached a great game for us tonight, and we wanted to get this game for him after we’d lost our last four in a row,” Phillips said. “We just got out there and saw an amazing effort from everyone on his special night.”
Wheeler echoed his teammate’s sentiments.
“Gage and I tried our best to make things happen for him, as did everyone on our team,” Wheeler said. “It’s such a great moment for him after all the years that he’s been the leader of Morris basketball. We’re so excited to achieve a big moment like this for him.”
Morris (6-15, 3-6 I-8) shot 23 of 47 (49%) from the field while also out rebounding Ottawa 28-18 on the night and committing a scant five turnovers during the proceedings.
Senior Ashton Yard also chipped in with nine points as Morris celebrated the win on Blumberg’s special night.
“I’m so proud of our guys and we did a lot of things right to beat a very good Ottawa team,” Blumberg said. “I’ve never won any games, never scored a point, pulled down a rebound or taken a charge. I didn’t know about this and wasn’t keeping track. It’s not about me, it’s about these kids tonight and every player in the past that helped our program earn respect over the years. That’s all I could ever ask for and I got it tonight with a great performance from another fine group of young men I’m privileged to coach.”
Ottawa (10-9, 6-3) received a team-best 11 points and five rebounds from senior Levi Sheehan. Senior Payton Knoll netted six points. But the Pirates could only manage three field goals in the second half as Morris took an eight-point lead into halftime and outscored the visitors 24-8 the rest of the way to race ahead with the win.
“Give Morris a ton of credit because they played very well and I did a poor job of preparing us to come on the road and play tonight,” Ottawa coach Mark Cooper said. “Joe [Blumberg] is an excellent leader and Morris High School is fortunate to have had him as its boys basketball coach over the years. We’re very happy for Joe and what Morris accomplished tonight. We know we have to get better moving forward.”
Wheeler got things started for Morris as he tallied seven points in the first quarter to stake his team to a 20-15 lead after eight minutes of play.
“I knew I needed to start off fast,” Wheeler said. “We just kept building on our lead from there.”
Phillips added five points in the second quarter that helped give Morris a 33-25 advantage at halftime.
Wheeler would then spark an 8-0 run to close out the third quarter with back-to-back putbacks that pushed Morris to a 44-28 lead with eight minutes left to contested.
There, Phillips added two buckets that pushed the Morris lead to 50-30 before the benches finally emptied soon thereafter and the celebration ensued for Blumberg and company.
“I’ve been blessed to have been aside great assistant coaches over the years especially Todd Kein, Mike Muntz and Justin Martin most recently,” Blumberg said. “All I can say is thank you to all of them for this special night for me and most importantly to the kids for providing me with a game I’ll never forget.”