MOOSEHEART – The dunks are pretty cool.
Mooseheart’s boys basketball team has so many sky-scraping, high-flying dunkers that it’s easy to get caught up in the offense. And when the points come so fast and frequently that the scoreboard seems to change faster than the game clock, it’s really easy to get caught up in the offense.
But Mooseheart’s defensive exploits had just as much to do with Tuesday night’s 89-44 Northeastern Athletic Conference win against Alden-Hebron as the highlight-reel offensive plays did.
“I thought we played really, really hard on defense, and I think that was kind of the name of the game,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “And if we can play that hard against our next opponents, we’re going to be in pretty good shape. I’ve been saying all year our defense is going to set up our offense, and I think that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
The Red Ramblers (18-2, 9-0 NEAC) have an obvious size advantage, and that’s putting it mildly.
Their frontcourt more closely resembles an NBA team than a high school team, with small forward Mangisto Deng coming in at 6-foot-7, Makur Puou at 6-foot-10 and Akim Nyang a formidable 7-1.
But that height is only one part of Mooseheart’s defensive puzzle. Aggressiveness is key, and the Ramblers swarmed Alden-Hebron throughout the night at every turn, no matter how large the lead grew.
You’d need an entire basketball team’s fingers and toes to try and count up how many steals Mooseheart had Tuesday. And that’s all by design.
“We run the 1-3-1 [zone]. We kind of go by the guy who runs our point out there, Hameed Odunewu, and he is so long out on top that it’s really hard for guards when he comes down,” Ahrens said. “And then you meet the wave after that. If you get past Hameed, we put our 7-foot-1 guy at the free-throw line, and then if you get past him, you meet the 6-foot-10 guy. There’s three waves there that are really long, and that’s tough to do. And then if you notice, our wings are pretty quick. With Freddy Okito and Mangisto Deng, our wings are nice defenders as, well.
“That’s why we run it, the 1-3-1.”
Between the eye-popping point totals – Puou led the way with 26, Odunewu had 19 and Deng added 12 – and the suffocating defense, it was another rout for Mooseheart, which has won 17 straight.
But the quality of opponent picks up soon, including a Feb. 16 game against highly-touted recruit Cliff Alexander and top-ranked Curie at Northside Prep. On Saturday, Mooseheart takes on Bartonville Limestone as part of Batavia’s Night of Hoops.
The Ramblers’ play on both ends of the floor has Ahrens excited for those upcoming tests.
“We’re getting into the time of year where we’re going to be playing some great competition,” Ahrens said. “I kind of like that. We played tough games in the middle, then it hasn’t been. It’s not like we aren’t playing quality opponents, but it hasn’t been what I thought it might be in the middle of the season. And then we’re going to play some tough teams at the end of the year, which gets us ready for the tournament. I really like that.”
“I want the guys to be challenged. I think that’s what makes the game fun. It’s a game, but that’s what makes it fun, when it gets challenging. And I want to see how they respond.”