MOUNT AYR — Sam Rockhold had attempted no 3-point shots all season.
Murray’s first two baskets in taking leads of 3-0 and 6-5 over undefeated Lamoni Thursday were 3-pointers by Rockhold.
Suddenly, the team ranked third in the state by Associated Press had a defensive dilemma on its hand. The Mustangs had unleashed a secret weapon, who ended the first half with three of the team’s five treys to keep Murray within three points at the break, 20-17.
“Sam came in the gym for two hours shooting today,” Murray coach Darin Wookey said. “He was sitting out there shooting threes. I’m thinking, that’s not part of the plan. He hit the first one tonight, so I’m thinking, OK, you got the green light.”
“We were going to let their big guys (Rockhold and Pat Kilmer) take threes,” Lamoni coach Ryan Olson said. “Their guards had been playing well, and (Trey) McHenry had gone for 31 against us in one of the games.”
At halftime, though, Olson decided to adjust and start contesting the 3-pointers more regularly in a man-to-man defense. Murray’s offense went stagnant, coupled with turnover problems, and Lamoni assumed control with a 14-5 third quarter that paved the way for a 58-38 district championship victory.
Lamoni (24-0) advances to a substate game for the first time under Olson Saturday at Indianola against Pleasantville. Tip-off is 7 p.m.
Murray’s season ends at 17-7. Rockhold scored a team-high 13 points with 10 rebounds in his final game for the Mustangs. Other seniors are Kilmer and guard Andrew Rider, who made two 3-pointers in scoring eight points.
Olson said Murray’s shooting made it a much tougher battle than previous wins of 72-55, 78-43 and 65-45 in the matchup this season.
“I didn’t want our season to end because we were sitting back in a zone and watching them shoot threes, so we came out with more man-to-man,” Olson said.
That put the Demons at more risk for foul trouble, and 6-7 center Jeremy Deemer (averaging 26 points and 16 rebounds) sat for a time in the third quarter with three fouls. But, Murray’s 3-point shooting binge was curbed in the process.
Another factor for Murray was having McHenry at less than 100 percent with illness. He came into the game averaging 18.3 points for the Mustangs.
“McHenry has been sick for seven days,” Wookey said. “He just doesn’t have any energy. He wanted to get through tonight, but he’s going to the doctor tomorrow.”
Rockhold and Braydon Held had combined for five 3-pointers, which accounted for all of Murray’s offense in the first half except for one 2-point basket by Kilmer. In the meantime, Deemer had been limited to four points, gaining extra defensive attention from Rockhold and Kilmer.
The game changed when Lamoni was clinging to a 20-18 early in the third period.
Deemer scored inside and was fouled for a conventional 3-point play. Murray turned it over on successive possessions, leading to a driving basket by Tim Brunner and fast break layup by Caleb Heltenberg. That made it 27-18 with 3:30 to play in the third period.
From that point, Murray got no closer than seven points. The dagger was a 3-pointer deep in the corner by Beau Bjorland early in the fourth quarter that stretched it to 17 points at 41-24. In a game that had featured patient possessions by Murray to generate good looks at the basket, that was a huge margin.
“We had to make a decision,” Wookey said. “Do we just sit back in that zone and be content with keeping it to 10 or 12 points? If we wanted to have any chance, if we want to try to win, we had to go man-to-man. I knew that could be trouble, because they have so much size.”
The Demons pulled away to the final 20-point margin. Brunner and Deemer each finished with 18 points, and Deemer finished with 15 rebounds. Much of his second-half offense came from the offensive boards.
“In the first half we did a really good job rebounding with them,” Wookey said. “In the third quarter, we turned the ball over about four or five times. We said we had to value the basketball tonight. Just too many turnovers in the third quarter. Now it’s a 10-point game.”
After losing starters Austin Halls (all-stater), Cody Scroggie and Eddie Otto from last year’s substate team, Wookey said it was an accomplishment for this Mustang squad to make a fifth straight trip to a district championship game.
“To be 17-7 after losing what we lost last year in quality athletes, that’s not bad,” Wookey said. “This group worked really hard to come together. We went on a great run after Christmas break.”
All three seniors will be missed, but McHenry, Held and freshman guard Kenny Boles return to the lineup, and Wookey said 6-4 freshman post player Thane Simmons shows potential to help fill the gap left inside by the loss of Rockhold and Kilmer.
Lamoni, meanwhile, seeks just its second state tournament bid in Saturday’s game at Indianola Saturday. The Demons were 0-1 in the 1999 state tourney. Pleasantville (20-4) defeated Martensdale-St. Marys Thursday, 64-46.
“We’ve scouted them twice and I’ve seen them personally once,” Olson said. “We know they have a good team, with some good kids inside and a couple of good 3-point shooters. We’re just hoping to go up and play our best game.”
LAMONI (58) — Tim Brunner 6 5-7 18, Jeremy Deemer 7 4-6 18, Caleb Heltenberg 4 0-2 8, Drew Radloff 3 1-2 7, Daniel Ansong 2 0-0 4, Beau Bjorland 1 0-0 3. Totals — 23 10-17 58. 3-point goals — 2 (Brunner 1, Bjorland 1). Rebounds — Deemer 15, Heltenberg 6, Brunner 5, Radloff 5. Assists — Brunner 4, Ansong 4, Radloff 3. Steals — Radloff 2, Ansong 2, Bjorland 2, Heltenberg 2. Blocked shots — Deemer 2. Team fouls — 13. Fouled out — None.
MURRAY (38) — Sam Rockhold 4 1-2 13, Braydon Held 3 0-0 8, Andrew Rider 2 2-2 8, Pat Kilmer 2 0-0 4, Trey McHenry 1 4 3, Kenny Boles 1 0-0 2. Totals — 13 4-8 38. 3-point goals — 8 (Rockhold 4, Held 2, Rider 2). FG shooting — 13-37 (35.1 percent). Rebounds — 24 (Rockhold 10, Kilmer 7). Assists — 9 (McHenry 2, Boles 2, Rockhold 2). Steals — 2 (Boles 1, Kilmer 1). Blocked shots — 1 (Kilmer 1). Turnovers — 15. Team fouls — 13. Fouled out — None.
Lamoni — 14 20 34 58
Murray — 6 17 22 38