The reason behind Thomas More Prep-Marian’s sluggish first half in Monday’s Class 3A sub-state opener was easy to pinpoint for TMP coach Joe Hertel. 

Not only were the Monarch boys playing without senior guard David McFarland, but TMP was allowing eighth-seeded Russell to dictate the pace, leading the Broncos by just four at halftime. 

“We basically put our heads together and it was my assistant coaches who put forth the idea that maybe we ought to go to our press, just to try force more action,” Hertel said. 

That decision solved the issues on both ends of the floor, with TMP outscoring Russell 42-20 in the second half to pull away for a 65-39 win at Al Billinger Field House. TMP (15-5) will face Southeast-Saline in Thursday’s sub-state semifinal in Minneapolis.

Once TMP’s defense took Russell out of rhythm, the Monarchs found success attacking the zone. They opened up a 14-point lead by the end of the third and broke it open early in the fourth. 

“There’s no question that (the press) got us turned around,” Hertel said. “I think it allowed us to get a few hands on some balls and force some bad passes by them. We got out in the open in a few places and, ultimately, what was Russell’s tempo in the first half was definitely ours in the second.

“It’s crazy. We just play better, more enthusiastic, more assertive offense when we play that same kind of 84-foot defense. It just kind of goes hand-in-hand.”

Ryan Karlin led three Monarchs in double figures with 17, while Creighton Renz and Trenton Mayo added 14 and 12, respectively. 

The loss of McFarland (ankle), was compounded by early foul woes by the Monarchs, who trailed 16-14 late in the second quarter before closing the frame on a 9-3 run to take a 23-19 lead at the break.

“It was a double whammy in that three guards were in foul trouble early, too,” Hertel said. “It’s no question that it tests our character every game that Dave is out. To have a close first half where it maybe could have gone either way, I think that was a test for our team character about how we have to turn it up a little bit in the second so that we can advance to the semis.”

Hertel said McFarland’s status for Thursday’s game is very much in doubt. 

“It’s a wait-and-see thing,” he said. “I’ll be honest —and I’m usually an optimist — but I do not think he’ll play this week. I think if we can sneak by and get a state tournament berth, then I think we got a shot (for McFarland to come back). 

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and I’m saying a prayer for Dave because I don’t want his career to end this way. I told him and all the players that my prayer is that he gets to don his uniform again for a real reason.”

Southeast of Saline squeaked into the sub-state semis with a 51-50 win over Minneapolis. 

“It didn’t matter to me which one won,” Hertel said. “I’m just glad we get to play in that game. I’ve already begun planning for it and so we’re just going to prepare like we always do and go over to Minneapolis and give it our best shot.”

Russell, which ended the season 4-16, was led by Austin Price’s 15 points while Koby Decker added 10.