NBA coaches talk all the time about winning the first two minutes of a quarter in a basketball game. Friday night, the Alleman boys basketball team took command of each quarter early on.
Alleman’s defense rose to the challenge, stifling Mercer County’s attack and coming away with a 65-42 victory and back-to-back regional titles.
The Pioneers managed to slow the Golden Eagles attack early in each of the four quarters, forcing the top seed in the Class 2A Rockridge regional to play from behind. Mercer County committed seven first-quarter turnovers, then coupled that with senior sharpshooter Anthony Ruggles drawing two early fouls to put the Golden Eagles at a disadvantage.
Alleman also knew Mercer County would want to get out and run. The Golden Eagles brand of basketball leads to lots of points, something the Pioneers were looking to keep to a minimum. Alleman out-rebounded Mercer County by a 24-18 margin, minimizing second shot opportunities and keeping the Eagles to one shot per trip.
“We really wanted to make sure to get them into a half-court game,” Alleman coach Kyle Murray said. “We know that if Mercer County is able to get up and down full court they are really comfortable. They get guys in the lane, they can shoot, and that’s their game. We wanted to challenge them and see if they could beat us in a half-court game. Conversely, if they took some quick shots, we were going to try and use their pressure against them.”
With the win, Alleman advances to the sectional semifinals to play the winner of Winnebago and Rockford Christian.
In the second half Alleman stepped on the gas. Nursing a 3-point lead, Alleman senior Brendan Hird scored eight consecutive points to essentially put the game out of reach.
“That was probably my best game of the year, and I was just trying to get us that win,” Hird said with a huge grin. “I was just feeling it tonight.”
Hird and Andrew Barrett each finished with 14 points, while junior Chase VanDerGinst had 20 points and 8 rebounds.
Also in the third quarter Mercer County went over 5 minutes of game action between points. It was almost 8 minutes exactly between Golden Eagles field goals.
“They were extremely physical with us and did a good job of not allowing us to get to the lane and to the boards,” Mercer County coach Mike Jones said. “They’re a very tough team to play, and that’s the benefit to them of playing in the Western Big Six and playing that kind of basketball every single night. That’s what they see. That’s what they’re used to, and they do a good job with it.”