Boys basketball: Morrison follows game plan to upset Rock Falls

Mustangs answer every surge by Rockets in 2A regional semifinal victory

Morrison’s Brenden Martin puts up a shot over Rock Falls’ Kuitim Heald Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophestown class 2A basketball regional.

PROPHETSTOWN – Going into the Class 2A Prophetstown Regional semifinals as an underdog, Morrison tried to keep the game plan as simple as possible Wednesday night against top-seeded Rock Falls.

“We knew they were going to score. We just had to respond,” Morrison senior Chase Newman said. “That was the whole mentality of the game: They’re going to make shots, so keep your head, get to the next play and respond.”

It worked to perfection, as the 10th-seeded Mustangs had the answer every time the Rockets made a run at them to advance to Friday’s regional title game with a 73-66 victory. Morrison will face fourth-seeded Princeton, a 63-56 winner over No. 5 seed Bureau Valley in Wednesday’s second semifinal.

The Mustangs (13-16) closed the first half with a 9-0 run to take a 32-29 lead into halftime, then had the answer every time Rock Falls (19-11) tried to rally.

“We came into this game knowing that we were not the favorites at all, so we just came out hot and just kept going,” Newman said. “All our guys made shots, knocked them down, just made plays and kept going.”

Offensive rebounds played a huge part in the game, as Morrison outscored the Rockets 14-7 in second-chance points. The Mustangs grabbed 14 offensive boards and outrebounded Rock Falls 34-27, and 6-foot-9 center Brenden Martin used his size advantage to finish with game-highs of 31 points and 14 rebounds.

“We needed every board we could get to be able to beat this team, because they’re good. We just played like a team. We bonded and did what we needed to do,” said Martin, who also had a pair of blocks. “We were the underdog going into this game. We know they’re a fast team and can shoot it from outside, and all we could do was work as hard as we could.”

Morrison’s Carson Starting hauls in a rebound against Rock Falls’ Aydan Goff Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophestown class 2A basketball regional.

Morrison used dribble penetration and lob passes to feed Martin and power forward Carson Strating (18 points) down low and also benefited from some balls bouncing their way. On four occasions, Rock Falls seemed to have nabbed steals, only for the Mustangs to recover the loose ball and turn it into points.

“They did a good job. Pulling down a bunch of offensive rebounds was key for them. The ball just didn’t fall our way a few times, and they did a really good job of keeping us out of our game,” Rock Falls coach Zach Sandrock said. “Credit to them, they knocked down some big shots and got those 50-50 plays when the ball was loose.”

Newman added 14 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and three blocks, and DaeShaun McQueen hit a couple of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and nailed a free throw in the final 30 seconds to provide the winning margin; he finished with seven points, four rebounds and six assists. The Mustangs shot 56.6% (30 for 53) from the field.

Defensively, Morrison held the Rockets to 5 for 15 from deep. But Rock Falls made up for it on the fast break, turning 11 steals into 14 points, and also held its own on the glass, pulling down 13 offensive rebounds.

“My role on the team is to get rebounds, so I just tried to box out, especially on their big kid. You know he’s going to get boards, and it’s a playoff game, so he’s going to play extra hard. I just had to fight hard down low,” said Rock Falls senior Devin Tanton-DeJesus, who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and two assists. “We knew this could be our last game for us seniors, so we just went after it like it was all or nothing.”

Morrison’s Colton Bielema and Rock Falls’ Devin Tanton-DeJesus look to wrangle a loose ball Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophestown class 2A basketball regional.

The Rockets led by six twice in the first half, but had to play from behind after the break. Back-to-back runout layups by Aydan Goff gave Rock Falls the lead back at 35-34 early in the third quarter, and the teams played the rest of the quarter in a five-point window; there were eight lead changes and a tie in the period.

But Morrison scored the final four points of the third on a pair of layups, the first by Newman off a loose-ball scramble and the second when Strating went coast-to-coast on a steal. McQueen opened the fourth quarter with a 3 before Strating scored back-to-back layups on pretty drive-and-dish plays by McQueen and Newman, who finished off the 13-4 extended run with another driving layup for a 60-52 lead with 5:35 to play.

“When we drove, they had to collapse, and we fed it to our big guys down low,” Newman said. “Everybody just played together, and we got the job done tonight.”

The Rockets hung around and cut the deficit to 68-66 with 1:26 to go after junior Kuitim Heald’s layup on a baseline drive and Gavin Sands’ subsequent steal of the Morrison inbounds pass for a three-point play.

Rock Falls’ Ryken Howard puts up a shot against Morrison’s Chase Newman Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophestown class 2A basketball regional.

But Colton Bielema and Martin both split a pair of free throws on the next possession – Bielema’s came after an intentional foul was called – to push the lead back to four, then Heald received a technical foul after missing a 3 that Sands grabbed the rebound of; he was whistled for saying something to the official after he felt he was fouled on the shot.

Martin hit both of those free throws to stretch the lead to six with 26.4 seconds to go, effectively sealing the upset for the Mustangs.

“We just couldn’t get over the mountain. Our energy on defense was just not there tonight,” said Heald, who scored 24 points to surpass the 1,000-point mark for his career.

“It means the world to me to get to 1,000 points, but I couldn’t do it without all of my teammates. I appreciate every single one of them, and I appreciate the seniors. It sucks that they had to go out like that.”

Heald also had four assists and three steals, and seniors Gavin Sands (12 points, five rebounds, four steals) and Goff (10 points) also hit double figures in their final game. Ryken Howard chipped in four points and five boards.

Rock Falls’ Gavin Sands (left) and Aydan Goff watch as the second tick down in their loss to Morrison Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024 at the Prophestown class 2A basketball regional.