MORRIS — Jack Wheeler sure picked a great time to produce a memorable performance.
The 6-foot, 3-inch Morris sophomore forward, who had spent much of the season scoring from the outside, completely flipped his own script.
Wheeler posted 17 interior baskets with a tough inside presence and speed on the break for layups. Add two free throws to his banner day, and Wheeler stole the show with a whopping 36 points and a game-high 12 rebounds to lead No. 7-seeded Morris to a 71-61 victory over No. 9-seeded Rochelle during the quarterfinals of the Class 3A Dixon Regional on Saturday afternoon in Morris.
“Pushing the ball up the court was a big part of it that created a lot of layups for me, and when my perimeter shot wasn’t going down I figured I’d keep driving to the basket,” Wheeler said. “Once I got going, I felt very confident in my ability to score a bunch of points.
“It was a great day for me and for our team.”
Wheeler received fine help from seniors Gage Phillips (13 points, seven rebounds) and Ashton Yard (10 points, five rebounds) as Morris shot 27 of 53 (51%) from the field with the sophomore shining the brightest.
“Jack had an amazing game, and I hope this opens his eyes to knowing he can be a dual threat, not only from beyond the arc but also attacking the basket like he did so well this afternoon,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “To know we’ve got him for two more years is a pretty good feeling, and how he performed today is something special.”
Rochelle (10-20) outrebounded Morris 42-28 and received a team-leading 20 points from junior Eli Luxton. Classmate Jack Tracey added 11 points, while sophomore Cayden Moore notched nine and a club-best 11 rebounds.
The Hubs hung tough until the end, but ultimately couldn’t counter the phenomenal performance Wheeler produced as Rochelle’s season came to a close.
“[Wheeler] was great today, and I think he had 27 against us the first time we played them this season in a conference game at our place, where I believe he had maybe six 3s?” Rochelle coach Tim Thompson said. “I don’t know if he even made a 3, but all his layups, his offensive rebounds and playing so well in the post just ruled the game. He was too much for us to handle today.”
Wheeler scored seven points in the first quarter before sophomore Brett Bounds nailed a right-baseline 3-ball with 30 seconds left in the period to give Morris an 18-7 lead after eight minutes of play.
He’d add 13 more in the second stanza including seven consecutive points that culminated with a nifty baseline drive at 5:55 to give Morris its biggest lead at 25-9.
But Rochelle rallied with a 17-9 run, as Luxton tallied the final three points of the half to close the Morris lead to 34-26 at the break with Wheeler posting 20 points.
The sophomore standout would notch eight more points in the third before Yard scored on an old-fashioned three-point play with five seconds to go that gave Morris a 53-39 advantage entering the final frame.
Wheeler would complete his memorable afternoon with eight more points in the fourth quarter including a putback at 6:35, a jumper in the lane at 5:45, a reverse layup at 4:40 and a bucket off a beautiful assist from Yard at 3:25 to give Morris a 63-51 lead it would never relinquish.
Morris (11-21) will now take on No. 2 seed Sterling (22-8) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Dixon in the regional semifinals.
“It feels good knowing after a big win like this in our last home game of the season that we’ll get to play against Sterling next week,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get after it then versus a good Sterling team, have some fun and find another way to advance in the playoffs.”