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TMP boys earn solid win before break

By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

Twas a night to be jolly at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.

In the student section of the fieldhouse, students, who have been out of school since Wednesday, belted out Christmas carols in the breaks of play and wore dated sweaters for an ugly Christmas sweater contest -- all while watching their Monarch boys' basketball team complete a sweep of Larned on Thursday.

It was the first sweep since Feb. 17 against Cimarron.

The TMP boys won 61-48 and improved to 2-5 and 1-1 in the MCAA. Larned dropped to 2-5 and 0-2.

It was a rough start to the season for both the TMP boys and girls as they combined to start 1-11 prior to Thursday, but the wins were tremendous gifts for Monarch fans, players and coaches alike as they headed into the Christmas break.

"The bottom line is it's so important that we get a 'W,'" said TMP head coach Joe Hertel. "I didn't care who against. We just really needed a win. The guys, they were getting a little bit frustrated with their inconsistency, and we just really needed a win. All of us needed a win."

TMP sophomore forward Cameron Fouts came off the bench and spearheaded the Monarchs' scoring effort, posting a career-high 23 points.

Fouts got the ball down low and powered the ball again and again to the basket, making 9 of 13 and converting 5 of 6 from the foul line.

"He is the physicality of our team. That is one of the few players we have that is pretty strong physically. Consequently, when we got it in there to him, he was able to get it in in the first half, and he made some free throws in the second half."

The Monarchs have been susceptible to offensive lulls, which culminated Tuesday against Victoria as TMP went 14 and a half minutes without scoring. However, on Tuesday, it was Larned that fell into a lull. It took nearly seven minutes for the Indians to score a basket after halftime, giving TMP an opportunity to take the first big lead of the game. With 7:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, TMP led 42-30. Hertel credited his defense.

"We are starting to get teams out of their offensive set," Hertel said. "When you can force a team to reload and reposition and things like that, then you are doing something right defensively."

It was a polar opposite showing compared to the first half.

Larned started the first quarter shooting 7 of 11. The Indians slowed a bit in the second quarter, making 3 of 13, but they managed to get to the free throw line to make up for it.

Then in the third quarter, Larned made just 1 of 13 and went 1 of 4 from the free throw line.

"Truthfully, we played some pretty decent offense in the first half, and then in the third quarter, really what happened was we got some good open shots that we normally make," said Larned head coach Don Zimmerman. "We missed them, and our kids kind of panicked. It was like, 'What are we supposed to do here? We are missing shots we normally make.'"

Larned got its offense going in the fourth quarter, but TMP answered with offense of its own and broke Larned's press late, which was something TMP has struggled with at times this season.

"You've got to hang in by converting (shots) yourself on the other end, and I felt like we did that better tonight," Hertel said.

TMP senior point guard Shane Zimmerman scored nine points, and junior forward Jordan Gottschalk added eight points while grabbing eight rebounds. Gottschalk tied for the team rebounding lead with senior forward Anthony Walters. Walters was especially active defensively, posting three blocks in the second quarter alone.

"(Walters) plays the game probably higher than anybody we have, and you need that kind of presence," Hertel said. "Basketball is a vertical game, and that's what he gives us that we don't have when he's not in there."

Larned junior guard Easton Palmer led his squad in scoring with 15 points -- 11 of which came in the first quarter. Junior forward Michael Reece added 13 points, and junior guard Brayden Smith had 10.

Though his team lost, Don Zimmerman said he thought Larned has made progress heading into break.

"Our last couple of games, we have just really played poorly," he said. "We have not moved the ball well. We have not executed offensively very well. In the last couple of games, I didn't think we competed like we needed to, and tonight, I felt like we did."

TMP returns to action Jan. 8 at Al Billinger Fieldhouse against Abilene.