With a BNC showdown looming with undefeated Winnebago on Thursday, Rockford Lutheran used Oregon as a warm-up in a 85-49 win.
In fact, the entire Winnebago team and its coach Joe Murphy were in attendance at Blackhawk Center, taking mental notes and comparing how the Crusaders would match up with Oregon.
If the results of both games are any indication, Lutheran (12-3, 5-0) should have its way with Winnebago, a team Oregon (10-8, 1-5) took to overtime.
“In the Big Northern, anything can happen,” Lutheran coach Tom Guse said. “I thought we played very well tonight. We did a good job on sharing the ball and defended well.”
Whereas Winnebago has two standouts in Jacob Posley and Matt Reinke, Lutheran had a seemingly unending supply of players to rotate.
Junior Tom Kopelman had 22 points, senior Tarence Roby had 20 and sophomore Nate Wieting had 19 in a balanced scoring attack.
Other than Roby, Lutheran’s top players are all underclassmen, including James Robinson, who torched the Hawks in football.
“The athleticism and pace of play didn’t favor us,” Oregon coach Quinn Virgil said.
However, the most athletic play of the game was made by an Oregon player and one that gave the Hawks hope of getting back into the game.
Oregon put together a 10-3 run at the end of the second quarter to close within 40-28.
Then, on the first possession of the third quarter, a flying Jessie McKinley took a pass from Caleb Mowry and slammed it home for crowd-pleasing dunk, cutting the deficit to a manageable 10 points.
“After that rally at the end of the half, I was optimistic,” Virgil said.
That optimism was soon erased with a steady dose of Lutheran baskets.
McKinley would add four more points in the third quarter, but the Crusaders took a 63-40 lead. The fourth quarter got even more out of hand, with Roby and Kopelman taking complete control.
“Roby’s like a post player that is lightning fast,” Virgil said. “They’d make the outlet pass to him and he is so strong.”
Oregon was also hurt by 13 turnovers midway through the second quarter. In fact, before Oregon even took its first shot, an errant pass hit spectator Ken Scott, sitting in the roll-out bleachers.
“We knew we’d have more turnovers than normal because of Lutheran’s aggressiveness,” Virgil said. “But, we aren’t going to win with that many.”
Mowry quietly led the Hawks with 19 points, but was hampered with foul trouble.
“Mowry’s a load. We were fortunate he got three fouls early,” Guse said.
Sean Kessler, returning to the line-up after an injury, provided a spark in the second quarter with a pair of baskets, including one off a steal.
In that stretch, he also made a acrobatic shot, but was fouled prior to the act of shooting.
Alex Cain, who still played after throwing up five times that day, added six points for the Hawk.
“We’ll learn from this game and move on,” Virgil said. “Lutheran is good enough to make a nice run in 3A.”