To some, everything the Magic boys basketball team achieves from this point on, is gravy.
Just don’t lump the team in with those people.
Despite winning eight games and surpassing last year’s win total by early January, the Magic are still looking to accomplish more.
That made Friday’s 76-63 loss to a state-ranked Big Lake team, in front of a large home crowd, frustrating for the Magic.
“We’ve gotten to eight wins,” said Coach Jason Schmidt. “Now the guys have a different level of expectation, which is good. But at the same time, you have to raise your play to meet that new expectation.”
Early on, Monticello’s play didn’t match their expectations.
Both teams were slow to get going, trading just a couple of baskets through the first few minutes as the Magic grabbed an early lead.
But it didn’t take long before Monticello’s Achilles heel, slow starts, popped up again.
The Hornets used two quick spurts, of 6-0 and 7-0, as they jumped to a 17-8 lead over the Magic at the midpoint of the first half.
“We have to come out strong and avoid getting in early holes,” said senior Erik Hammill. “We came out fine, then there was a big lull.”
Ryan Todd temporarily stopped the run, hitting a three-pointer to draw Monticello back within six, but that was the closest the Magic would get for the rest of the night.
Big Lake handled Monticello’s pressure defense, finding open layups that led to a ballooning lead, one that eventually grew to 32-15 after a 9-0 Big Lake spurt.
“We didn’t set solid traps and on the back side, we weren’t jumping to the ball,” said Schmidt. “We had a lot of easy seams for them to attack.”
The Magic, continuing a trend, didn’t roll over for the Hornets. The home team finished the final four minutes of the half on an 8-4 run, cutting the lead to 36-23 at the half.
But in the second half, Monticello wasn’t able to continue that run, or, start a new one.
The Hornets seemed to have an answer for every Monticello basket, often exposing the Magic transition defense immediately following one of Monticello’s buckets.
“That was the problem tonight,” said Hammill. “We didn’t get back on defense and they did to us what we wanted to do to them.”
The Hornets’ lead spent nearly the entirety of the second half hovering between 12 and 18 points. It wasn’t until a three from Hammill, with 1:25 left in the game, got the Magic closer than 12, cutting the deficit to 71-61.
There was no quit in the Magic, but there was no miracle either, as the home team fell by 13.
Schmidt said that the Magic weren’t quite as sharp as they had been recently, particularly last Tuesday when they went to Buffalo and pushed the conference leaders to the final buzzer.
“These guys are learning you have to bring the same energy for the full game, every single night,” he said. “You can’t have a letdown. That’s tough to do. But it’s your only choice.”
Hammill was Monticello’s biggest bright spot. The senior guard played with energy throughout, scoring a team-high 14 points and trying to spark his teammates.
“He was the guy that was trying to lead by example,” said Schmidt. “He embraced the moment and tried to get the other guys to follow him.”
Tyler Frie and Matt Grathwohl also provided an offensive punch for the Magic, scoring 13 and 12 points respectively.
It was the offensive balance that Monticello looks for and Schmidt likes to see, but it was the other side of the ball that left him unsatisfied.
“Defensively, we’ve got to start bringing the point totals down,” said Schmidt. “Offensively, every team is going to struggle at times. But I feel like defense is something you can control.”
Despite the frustrations Friday night, and the higher expectations notwithstanding, Hammill said the Magic are still very happy with where they’re at, and confident they’re on the verge of making this season an even bigger success.
“We think every time we step out on the court it’s a winnable game,” he said. “We still feel really good. We still have the confidence that we had in the beginning of the year.”
The senior guard added that they will just have to continue to learn and improve, if they want the remainder of the season to go as well they believe it can.
“I think experiences like tonight will [help],” said Hammill. “We have to see what we have to work on then transfer that into practice.”
Monticello is back in action tonight, as they head to Princeton for a rescheduled battle with the Tigers. Friday, the Magic travel to Rogers to take on the Royals at 7:15 p.m.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com