MORRIS — Using a strong effort on both the defensive end and on the boards, as well as a balanced, unselfish offense, the Morris boys basketball team picked up its first home win of the season Tuesday, defeating Northern Illinois Big 12 rival Kaneland, 39-37.
"It was nice to get a win at home," said senior Tyler Spiezio, who led Morris with 14 points and 13 rebounds. "Especially since this was one of our last home games."
The Redskins (6-19, 2-9) fell behind early, 4-0, on a putback basket by Kaneland's Wyatt Peeler and a bucket underneath by teammate Blake Fieza. Spiezio then scored off an assist from Jacob Overbeck before Kaneland's Luke Brost scored on a putback. Morris closed the first quarter with a basket by Kameron Dransfeldt (6 points) off an assist by Chatten Dryfhout and a basket in the lane by Spiezio at the buzzer to tie the game at 6.
"The last time we played them, they scored 20 points on us in the first quarter," Spiezio said. "We didn't want to let them off to a quick start again. Once we started shutting them down, we just kept it going."
The two assists in the first quarter were a common theme for the Redskins all night, as they had assists on 11 of their 15 baskets.
"It was good to see us attack their double teams and pressure," Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. "We looked upcourt and were able to get several 3 on 2 and 2 on 1 looks.
"Our defense was solid. We did a good job on their ball screens and we rebounded well, especially on the offensive glass. We kept quite a few possessions alive by getting offensive rebounds."
Morris scored the first five points of the second quarter and never trailed again. Spiezio drained a three-pointer to start the quarter, and Logan Edwards was fouled on fast break and made both free throws. Kaneland answered with baskets by Peeler and Brett Wallner, but Spiezio scored off an assist from Overbeck to put Morris ahead, 13-10. Rhett Espe hit a three-pointer for Kaneland to tie it at 13, but Morris got a basket by Payton Voitik and one by Overbeck, off an assist from Spiezio, to take a 17-13 halftime lead.
Kaneland was able to cut the lead to one near the end of the third quarter, but Morris' Jack Walker made a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds left to hand the Redskins a 25-22 lead entering the fourth.
Neither team scored for the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, and Overbeck gave Morris a 27-22 lead by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 5:51 to play. The Knights got to within 29-28 with 3:52 left on a three-pointer by Grant Heimerdinger, but Spiezio scored two straight baskets and then Voitik scored off an assist from Dransfeldt to give Morris a 35-28 lead with 1:14 to play.
"We did a good job of finding the open guy in our offense," Blumberg said. "That play from Kam to Payton really stands out as a good play at a big moment."
But Kaneland wasn't quite done.
Espe hit a three-pointer with 49 seconds left to pull the Knights to within 35-31. After Dryfhout scored on a fast break layup, Matt Olson hit a three-pointer for Kaneland to make it 37-34 with 28.1 seconds left. Spiezio then hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 38-34 Morris lead and Olson connected from long range again with 11.5 seconds left to make it 38-37. Dryfhout then made 1 of 2 free throws with 10.5 seconds left. Peeler then attempted a three-pointer for Kaneland, but it was off the mark and Voitik came down with the rebound to secure the Morris win.
"In the first half, the offenses were stagnant for both teams," Blumberg said. "But I was proud of our guys for gutting out a tough win against a solid Kaneland team."