There was no panic. There was no worry.
Instead, the Thomas More Prep-Marian boys’ basketball team kept grinding.
In the end, that attitude helped the Monarchs overcome a three-point deficit after the first quarter to win with a running clock against Smith Center, 75-42, on Friday night at Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
“I think it was a lesson in perseverance,” said TMP coach Joe Hertel. “We didn’t play badly in the beginning, but we just couldn’t make anything. Smith Center made a lot of tough shots in that period. It’s characteristic of a veteran, senior team, but I’m really proud of their resolve to stay patient, not start launching shots and going one on five. They kept their poise and their nose to the grindstone and kept grinding.”
Smith Center (2-7 overall, 1-4 MCL) came out clicking, building an 18-15 lead after the first quarter that saw 14 combined fouls called.
But in the second quarter, TMP (8-2, 5-0) found its rhythm, outscoring the Redmen 18-6 to take a 33-24 lead at halftime.
“There came a point when things started clicking,” Hertel said. “When we make stops and get takeaways and get out in transition, these guys can really wear on people. We went from being down at the first quarter to being up by 30 points and a running clock. We can be explosive at times on both ends of the floor, and that can be tough for teams.”
Key in the early going was the TMP reserves. Juniors Ryan Karlin and Jared Mayers both spelled players saddled with early fouls and combined for eight points — Mayers scoring four in the first quarter and Karlin four in the second.
“One of this team’s strongest attributes is even when we get in foul trouble … there were some guys on the bench who log a lot of JV minutes coming in and making plays,” Hertel said. “When we can go, seriously, nine, 10 or 11 deep and get a contribution at the varsity level, you have a chance to never have something crazy that happens that beats you. I like that. That’s a good problem to have.”
With TMP leading 37-28, the Monarchs put the game away to end the third quarter. A 14-4 run over the final 4:08 of the period left TMP ahead 51-32 entering the fourth quarter.
Then a 11-2 run over the first 2:55 of the final period gave TMP a 62-34 advantage — all but sealing the blowout win.
“They are a very good team,” said Smith Center coach Rob Buckmaster. “But people don’t understand that in basketball, you want to play the very good teams. In other sports, you worry about the win and loss record. In basketball, you want to be at your best in February, the middle of February. You don’t get better by beating teams by 30, for us anyway. You get better by playing Phillipsburg, TMP. It was a good game. I was proud of our guys. One of our goals was to make them go out and call a timeout in the first quarter. We got up on them and did that. We’re getting better. I’m proud of them.”
The lead grew to as many as 34 points before the buzzer sounded, giving the Monarchs their eighth win in a row and keeping their league record perfect.
“We were explosive. We really separated,” Hertel said. “That’s good to see. We’re best when we get to play that way.”
Senior Michael Lager led the Monarchs with 16 points, and senior David McFarland added 14.
Smith Center was paced by junior Colby Benoit and senior Jesse Staples, who each had 13 points. They combined for 20 of the Redmen’s 24 points in the first half, but the Monarchs limited Smith Center to only 18 points in the final two periods.
“I think we put 10 in the book tonight with offensive contributions,” Hertel said. “A lot of those were easy baskets because of hard work done on the defensive end. I really like the state of our conditioning because I felt like we could have played another game at the end. A lot of that has to do with depth, but it’s a tribute to the players’ willingness to push hard in practice and get in tip-top shape.”