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Saturday, February 9th, 2008
By Randy Bruns
Rangers are MAC champions
Back-to-back titles for New Knoxville
NEW KNOXVILLE - It's often said that defense wins championships, but a blazing hot offense certainly doesn't hurt, either.
The New Knoxville Rangers blistered the nets in shooting 60 percent from the field on their way to clinching their second straight Midwest Athletic Conference title with a 73-62 win over the Marion Local Flyers.
The Rangers are now 19-0 on the year, 8-0 in the MAC, and have won their last 42 regular season games. Marion falls to 12-5 overall and settles into a tie for second in the league with a 6-2 mark.
Early on, all indications were that this game would be a track meet. Shedding their usual meticulous offensive strategy, the Flyers kept up a brisk tempo and came away with excellent results. Jordan Winner was the main beneficiary, as the senior center scored 16 points in the first half.
Though they scored their share in the first two quarters, the Flyers' defense was riddled by a brutally efficient Ranger attack. Ryan Vanderhorst and Brad Piehl were the main marksmen for the hosts, going a combined 13-of-16 from the field in the first half to pace the Rangers to a 39-36 halftime advantage.
Just as they did against Shawnee in their last big home game, the Rangers put it in overdrive in the third quarter.
The hosts scored the first four points of the second half, and following a bunny by Winner, the Rangers went on a 9-1 run that ended with a three-pointer by Tony Meyer. Suddenly the tight battle of the first half was but a memory, as the Rangers had themselves a 52-39 advantage.
Marion pulled within 10 on Chris Stucke's trey to start the fourth, but New Knoxville tallied the next seven points to take its biggest lead at 66-49. The visitors countered with eight straight points of their own, but Austin Luck provided the dagger that brought the home crowd to its feet. Luck nailed a three from the corner that put the hosts back up by 12 with under three minutes remaining, and Marion never threatened thereafter.
"We have some talented young men, and it showed again tonight," said New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier. "We weren't too happy the way we defended in the first half, in fact we thought it was horrible. I give Marion credit because they took advantage of our lack of defense. We weren't playing good team defense so we had a little discussion about that at halftime."
Marion coach Keith Westrick was pleased with his offense early but pointed to a third-quarter lull as the key to the outcome.
"We moved the ball well and we definitely found Jordan Winner inside," said Westrick. "We shot the perimeter better and that kind of opened things up a bit. Then we hit a stretch in the third quarter when we didn't shoot very well, and we didn't function very well in our zone defense."
Piehl had a monster game for the Rangers, as the junior scored 26 points on a 12-of-13 effort from the field. He was joined in double digits by Vanderhorst with 19 and Meyer with 10.
Winner almost matched Piehl down low with 24 points, while Stucke and Jordan Schmackers chipped in with 15 and 10, respectively.
"That's why they call it team basketball," said Hegemier. "The one thing I like about this team is that they share the ball so well. You have to run your halfcourt offense to be successful. Sometimes you can get some picks or get it off the glass and go, but we have to run a good halfcourt offense and we did that tonight."
Westrick, who saw his squad lose its second game in three tries, will try to guide the Flyers through a tough three-game week before tournament action begins.
"When you've been pretty successful and you have a couple losses, you're always concerned about the kids' mental frame of mind," said Westrick. "But the kids are tough and they know what they want to accomplish. We told the kids in the locker room that they just played the number-one team in the state and put a good effort out there. Now they've just got to refocus their goals and ask themselves what they can accomplish."
Marion gets back to the grind tonight when Russia pays a visit to The Hangar while New Knoxville gets a week off before ending the regular season at the Vatican where they will face St. John's.
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