By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — MORRISON, Ill. — If coaching doesn’t work for Fulton coach RJ Coffey, he might have a career in remodeling, because that’s what he did to his team during halftime Wednesday night.
Fulton defeated Morrison 71-63, scoring 53 points in the second half following an 18-point performance in the first two quarters.
“We played really slow; we didn’t play our style,” Coffey said. “We said coming in that we had to play how we like to. We had simple things to fix at halftime, just shoot the ball better and play to our tempo.”
It wasn’t as if the Steamers came out cold. The Mustangs (13-16) roared out of the gate, making virtually every shot and pinning the Steamers back on their heels with a 32-18 halftime score.
“We were playing awful in the first half,” Steamers big man Jake Willging said. “I’m not really sure what was wrong with us; shots weren’t falling and we didn’t box out.”
While the Steamers were less-than-pleased with their first-half performance, Morrison coach Dave Peugh said his team’s first-half performance was at its peak.
“That was probably the best half we’ve played all season,” he said. “We were moving the ball around and playing some good defense, but we knew that they were going to make a run.”
Fulton (21-8) also allowed 16 first-half points to Hunter Hamstra, who ended up with a team-high 20 points.
“It’s frustrating to let anybody cut you up like that,” Coffey said. “He scored a lot against us the last time we played him here, so we know he’s a great player.”
The Steamers held Hamstra to just 15 points last week at home, which they lost.
Then, at halftime, as most coaches do, Coffey found a way to get his guys fired up for the second half.
“He walked up to the board and only erased a couple things, which isn’t good,” Willging explained. “He knew we could catch up with them if we did what we needed to do.”
Whatever Coffey said, it worked.
Morrison did start the third quarter with a basket from Mason Sitzmore, but after that, Fulton went on its tear.
The Steamers scored 10 points within a 1:24 stretch, trimming the deficit to four.
Then, the Steamers tacked on six more thanks to timely shooting in the run from Matt Dail, Zach Barber and Kyle Huebner.
“He wanted us to get after it,” Dail said. “We weren’t getting the ball in the middle of their zone as much, and he challenged us to make fouls and put pressure on them.”
Morrison was aware of what its opponent could do, especially with the fact that the road team had won the two earlier matchups this season.
“The last time we played them, they hit nine or so 3-pointers,” Peugh said. “Tonight, they got pretty close to that, and you got to give them credit for giving them shots. Whatever team made the shots down the stretch won the game like we did last week over there.”
And the Steamers did just that, scoring 29 third-quarter points.
“Our second half was huge,” Coffey said. “We had guys who stepped up across the board.”
Fulton got its first tie with Morrison at 34-34 with 4:47 remaining in the third.
The fourth quarter was no different for the Steamers. The Mustangs still held on to the lead, but momentum was rapidly shifting toward Fulton.
It was back and forth for the first couple minutes of the fourth until Fulton took the lead 60-59 with two minutes remaining, and the Steamers never relinquished that lead.
“That’s why basketball games are two halves obviously, and that’s what we learned tonight,” Peugh said. “Just because we were up, we had to go out in the second half and act like it was 0-0, and we did by scoring the first basket, but it really bottomed out after that.”
Fulton ended the game having four players in double figures — Dail led with 21, Barber had 18, Huebner had two big 3-pointers late to give him 10 points and Willging put in 13 points down low along with a free throw.
Morrison ended its season 13-16 with a strong push in the latter parts.
“We never got our full team until the last third of the season with guys being injured, so that’s why we played our best basketball down the stretch,” Peugh said.
Morrison had two others who scored in double figures, with Kaleb Church scoring 15 and Mason Sitzmore posting 16 points.
Fulton returns to Morrison’s gym on Friday night in the regional final against Sterling Newman at 7 p.m.
FULTON 71, MORRISON 63
MORRISON (13-16) — Triston Houzenga 0 6-6 6, Mason Sitzmore 8 0-2 16, Kaleb Church 7 0-0 15, Joey Brackemyer 0 2-2 2, Bill Lee Greul 2 0-0 4, Hunter Hamstra 9 2-2 20, Scott Ferry. Totals 26 10-12 63.
FULTON (21-8) — Matt Dail 6 7-8 21, Seth Sanderson 1 3-4 6, Jason Osborn 1 0-0 3, Devin Kuehl 0 0-2 0, Zach Barber 5 4-7 18, Kyle Huebner 3 1-4 10, Jake Willging 6 1-2 13. Totals 22 16-25 71.
Morrison 22 10 15 16 — 63
Fulton 8 10 29 24 — 71
3-point goals — Morrison 1 (Church); Fulton 11 (Barber 4, Huebner 3, Dail 2, Osborn, Sanderson). Total fouls — Morrison 19, Fulton 17. Fouled out — Brackemyer.