All is well that ends well, and so is the case with the first week of games for the Monticello mens basketball program.
Last Thursday in their season opener, the Magic were turnover prone and inefficient as they gave away a winnable game to Mound Westonka. But Tuesday night at Zimmerman, all was redeemed. An efficient Monticello team went on the road and delivered a decisive 79-59 victory over the Thunder, moving the Magic back to .500 and giving Head Coach Jason Schmidt his first career victory.
“For me, it’s about our seniors,” said Schmidt late Tuesday night, about getting the first win out of the way. “That’s who it means the most to. For them to be .500, it’s a big deal.”
Late last week, things weren’t so bright. There were numerous areas Monticello could point to as a cause for their season opening loss to Mound-Westonka, but the one that seemed to bother them most was the defensive effort.
Many teams would be thrilled to give up just 60 points, as the Magic did in their 60-55 loss. But Monticello knows they aren’t many teams. The Magic are a defensive minded team, and with a lack of big time scoring threats on offense, they will often need to be a shutdown defensive team to win games.
But Thursday night, the White Hawks shot 68 percent on two-point field goals, and strung together a 13-2 run early in the second half before hanging on despite poor free throw shooting down the stretch.
“We came up short on the defensive end,” said Schmidt, who added that everyone in his locker room felt like they let one slip away in the opener.
On the other end of the court Monticello got 22 points from Will Bauman, and 14 points, including a couple of late threes, from Hayden Laimer to help keep the Magic in the game. But it was for naught as Monticello dropped its seventh straight season opener.
The game got off to a good start for the Magic, who were trying to earn a win for Schmidt in his first game as a head coach. Midway through the first half, junior guards James Schyma and Erik Hammill buried back-to-back three pointers to give Monticello a 16-13 lead and ignite the home crowd.
To that point, Monticello had been solid on defense and efficient on offense. Most importantly, they had taken care of the ball. Unfortunately for the Magic, that trend wouldn’t continue.
Turnovers seem to be contagious, and once the Magic made a couple, they made a couple more. Over the next nine and a half minutes, Monticello scored just five points.
“Guys started getting tired and they started making mistakes,” said Schmidt, who played 13 different players in the opener.
But despite being tired, the defense they pride themselves on kept them close for the remainder of the half. So close in fact that when Bauman dropped in two free throws with just seconds left, Monticello headed to the locker room tied at 23.
In the half, Bauman was the biggest bright spot. His 12 points came on a collection of pull-up jump shots and drives to the hoop, as the all-around athlete used his explosiveness to create for himself out of Monticello’s motion offense.
Early in the second half, the turnovers continued to mount and the offense continued to stagnate. To compound matters, the White Hawks started finding holes in the defense and on the glass. An early run pushed the visitors all the way to a 40-27 lead.
But, Monticello wasn’t done quite yet.
The defense locked back down, and Monticello went on its own 10-0 run, concluded by a Laimer three-pointer.
It was the highlight of the night for the Magic offense, as they showed the perfect (and necessary) balance of a motion offense.
“We have to open up the court by driving and kicking,” said Bauman. “And we have to shoot well to open up the drive.”
Now within three points, Monticello struggled to get any closer. As difficult as it can be to cut a big deficit down, it tends to get even more difficult to make that final push from trailing to tied or leading. Thursday, the Magic never got that push. Mound-Westonka kept them at bay, largely by virtue of getting buckets, or offensive rebounds and then buckets, whenever they needed them most.
“We have to get on the boards,” said Bauman. “Those second chance points hurt.”
Monticello would inch back in, getting it to 52-50 on another three by Laimer in the waning minutes of the ball game. But, despite shaky free throw shooting from the White Hawks, Monticello could not pull any closer.
Still, Schmidt found a handful of things to be encouraged by. He said Bauman’s performance was the type they will need from him if they want to be successful this year. And the fight the Magic showed to close the gap from 13 to two in the second half is exactly what the first-year coach is looking for out of his team.
“Our MO is going to be, we’re not going to quit,” he said. “I don’t know how to quit, and I think [the kids] know that.”
Tuesday night proved to be a whole different story. The Magic, playing at Zimmerman, fell in a quick hole. But they weren’t deterred. They finished the half on a dead sprint, rather than limping in like they did Thursday. For their efforts, and their efficiency, they were rewarded with a 43-31 halftime lead.
The 43 point output was Monticello’s best offensive half in over a full season.
In the second half, they relied on their defense for the cushion.
Zimmerman likes to get out and push the tempo, but the Magic effectively limited their opportunities all night.
“Guys did a great job of busting their butt to stop their transition,” said Schmidt.
One guy who Schmidt was especially pleased with was Gunnar Nemitz. The senior forward matched up with the Thunders’ best player – allowing 24 points, but making him work for every basket – while Nemitz tallied 14 points and eight rebounds of his own.
Offensively, the Magic were led by Bauman for the second straight night. The senior was lights out from the field, scoring 23 points on 8 of 10 shooting, including 2 of 3 from the three point line. He also added five free throws. Tanner Okerson (13) and Laimer (11) also finished in double figures as the Magic shot nearly 70 percent on two-point field goals.
In total, nine players scored for the Magic, who earned revenge on a 77-48 loss to Zimmerman last year.
Monticello goes back on the road Friday to take on St. Cloud Apollo at 7:30 p.m.