Smith Center and Thomas More Prep-Marian’s boys’ basketball teams met at Al Billinger Fieldhouse for the second time in five days Tuesday, but the second meeting was with a trip to the Mid-Continent League semifinals on the line.
The result was much the same, as TMP followed up Friday’s 80-54 win with a 75-42 victory Tuesday.
Smith Center again opened the game in its 2-3 zone, and the Monarchs continued to work the zone and build an early lead.
After Smith Center freshman Austin Hobelmann tied the game at two, the Monarchs went on an 11-0 run and led 13-2 after a T.J. Flax layup. Four Monarch starters scored during the run, and the only exception, point guard Peyton Hoffman, scored the final seven TMP points of the quarter. Hoffman’s final bucket in the first was a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just a few steps inside midcourt that gave TMP a 22-9 lead after eight minutes.
“I thought the starting five were very efficient,” TMP coach Joe Hertel said. “We didn’t have any dead spots in the game early. I thought we steadily pushed out a lead and continued to expand it throughout. I felt like everybody in that first group gave us contributions on both ends of the floor.”
When Hertel didn’t have his starters on the floor, however, production dropped to a concerning rate.
“The problem with the game tonight is that the bench didn’t really give us much of a lift,” Hertel said. “It really didn’t matter which combinations. My guys coming in off the bench tonight really didn’t have much luck on either end.”
Hertel added that many of the TMP reserves are just sophomores, but he also stressed the importance of the younger players making the most of the minutes that come their way.
Gavin Overmiller and Thayne Benoit each connected from deep in the opening two minutes of the second quarter, which helped the visitors keep the TMP lead at 10 early in the second quarter before the TMP starters came at Smith Center with another wave of offense.
Ryan Ruder connected on a pair of 3-pointers sandwiched around a three-point play from Jared Vitztum. After Ruder’s second triple, TMP lead 38-17 with 2:50 until halftime.
Hoffman beat the buzzer a second time just before half, picking off a Smith Center pass and laying it in to put the Monarchs up 47-24 as they headed back to the locker room.
Vitztum opened the third with a pair of buckets inside before Smith Center scored six straight. TMP reserve Michael Lager broke up the Smith Center surge, scoring in transition off a Hoffman assist. Lager’s bucket with 5:23 left in the third was the first points scored by a TMP reserve.
With the Monarchs heading into stiffer competition in the coming days and weeks, the Monarchs coach is hoping to see increased contributions from some of his key bench players.
“There’s going to be a time, and it could be sooner than later if circumstances demand, that we need to get a lift off the bench to hang even,” Hertel said.
That was clearly not the case Tuesday, as the Smith Center faced a running clock down by 30 to start the fourth quarter. Vitztum and Flax scored in the opening minute of the fourth. Chase Werth, the only other TMP reserve to score, added the last bucket of the game with a little more than 10 seconds to play.
While the bench’s performance didn’t earn much praise, the team’s defensive effort, which held Smith Center to 12 fewer points the second time around, gave the coach something to compliment.
“I thought, generally speaking, we did a decent job defensively, especially considering these guys were in our house just a couple of days ago,” Hertel said.
The Monarchs also doubled Smith Center’s rebounding total on night, led by Vitztum’s 13 rebounds. He added 27 points for a double-double and continued to bully MCL competition. The Monarchs finished one point shy of having all five starters in double figures. Hoffman finished second to Vitztum with 13 points, while Flax added 12. Ruder was the fourth Monarch in double figures with 10, while Chase Romme finished with nine. Lager and Werth’s buckets rounded out the TMP scoring.
Smith Center was led by Benoit’s 13 points, while Jesse Staples contributed 10.
The Monarchs advanced to Friday’s semifinal in Plainville, where they’ll take on Hill City for a chance to play in Saturday’s championship. The Monarchs beat the Ringnecks 62-47 in early December, but that was a home game.
“Now we’re going to a neutral site, so things could be different,” Hertel said, “but we’re hoping that we get the same kind of tenacious effort on both ends of the court, and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to at least get into the championship game.
Thomas More Prep-Marian 75, Smith Center 42
SC 9 15 15 3 — 42
TMP (8-2) 22 25 22 6 — 75
SC — Benoit 13, Hobelmann 4, Overmiller 9, Meyer 6, Staples 10.
TMP — Hoffman 13, Romme 9, Flax 12, Vitztum 28, Ruder 10, Werth 2, Lager 2.”