ELGIN – A much-anticipated rematch in the IHSA Class 1A Westminster Christian Regional championship game Friday at Judson University wound up lacking any real drama, and that was fine with victorious Mooseheart.
The Ramblers (24-5) routed Hinckley-Big Rock, 55-38, to avenge an early-season loss to the Royals in Hinckley.
“We learned from the first game,” Mooseheart forward Mangisto Deng said. “We knew if we didn’t play defense, we weren’t going to win.”
The main thing the Ramblers learned from their 58-51 loss to Hinckley-Big Rock back in early December was not to play man-to-man defense against the Royals (24-5).
“We ran the 1-3-1 [zone] better than we’ve ran it all year,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “We played defense really well.”
The Ramblers held Hinckley-Big Rock to 4 points in the first quarter and built a quick 7-point cushion. Mooseheart closed the first half on a 7-0 run to take a 29-13 lead into the break.
Deng, a 6-foot-7 junior, was a big part of that scoring spree. He found teammate Walli Sanni with a pass for an easy basket to start the run, then hit a long 3-pointer before closing the half with a mid-range jumper. He had 11 of his 18 points in the opening 16 minutes.
The Royals tried to make a game of it in the second half, forcing the Ramblers into eight third-quarter turnovers and eventually cutting the deficit to 10 on a layup by Jared Madden after one of them. But Mooseheart scored the game’s next 10 points to take a 44-24 lead with 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Hinckley-Big Rock managed to close the gap to 14 with 3:38 to play, but a thunderous jam by Makur Puou (17 points, 13 rebounds) with less than two minutes left pushed the margin back to 18, ending whatever small doubt remained about the final outcome.
“We’ve been watching their film and we know how to play [against them],” said Puou, a 6-10 junior. “That helped us a lot. We’re strong down low and they’re strong at shooting.”
Puou, Deng, and 7-1 junior Akim Nyang are all from South Sudan. Hinckley-Big Rock expressed concern to the IHSA early in the season about A-HOPE, the organization that brought the trio to Mooseheart from Africa.
While talking with pride about the 10 seniors on his roster after the game, Royals coach Bill Sambrookes could resist a thinly-veiled reference to the controversy.
“It’s home-grown talent,” he said of his roster. “It’s guys that were with me in fifth-grade coming to camps, the whole 10 of them. … They all stayed together and accepted their roles. Nobody moved in and nobody moved out.”
The only moving Mooseheart is concerned about now is the fact the Ramblers are moving on to sectional play for the first time in nearly half a century. The last postseason championship for Mooseheart in boys basketball was back in 1964.
The Ramblers will take on Chicagoland Jewish of Deerfield on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Mooseheart.
“They’re another Hinckley-Big Rock,” Ahrens said. “Fast, quick, guards that can play really well – the best shooting guard I’ve seen this year. The [Jake] Newlander kid. He’s incredible.”