FULTON, Ill. — Developing a game plan against Fulton can be an exercise in futility for opposing boys basketball coaches.
The Steamers’ three shooting threats from the outside force foes into difficult decisions.
Amboy coach Luke Payne decided to have the Clippers focus on stopping the Steamers’ top two scorers, Zach Barber and Matt Dail, on Tuesday when the teams met on Stan Borgman Court. With the defense playing off him, Kyle Huebner stepped up for Fulton, leading the Steamers to a 56-38 victory.
“For our opponents, it has to be scary to have three lethal guys to try to shut down,” Barber said.
“We wanted to make sure Dail and Barber didn’t hurt us, and Huebner got hot early,” Payne said. “We kind of knew about him. We were hoping he’d have an off night, but he kind of put the team on his back.”
After missing his first attempt, Huebner dropped in back-to-back 3-pointers on Fulton’s next two possessions for a 6-0 lead just 1 minute, 21 seconds into the game. He was just getting started.
Huebner, a 6-foot-1 junior, scored Fulton’s first 12 points — all on 3-pointers — and scored all 18 of his points in the opening half as the Steamers never trailed.
“They’re the second or third team that tried a triangle-and-two (defense), and Hubie made them pay,” Fulton coach RJ Coffey said.
“I love it,” Huebner said of the defensive scheme. “We’ve got Zach and Matt to hit all those threes, so if they dare me, I’m going to hit it. They kept giving it (an open shot) to me, so I’m going to take them.
“It felt good starting off like that. I knew I had to come out and produce. But, it wasn’t just me; it was the whole team. We played really well as a team tonight.”
In addition to Huebner’s big night, Barber dropped in 16 points for the Steamers — 14 in the second half — and Seth Sanderson added 10, while the other two starters, Dail and Jake Willging, hit the boards hard.
Willging grabbed three rebounds early, the third an offensive rebound on a missed 3 by Huebner that he kicked back out Huebner, who deposited his fourth trey for a 12-3 lead with 4:40 still left in the quarter. Huebner alternated sides of the court for his first four makes, too, going left, right, left, right.
“We talked to Hubie this week,” Coffey said. “His points were down, and we said he’s a good shooter and to keep shooting. He cashed in.”
Huebner’s teammates got in the act after that, but he was right back at it to start the second quarter. He buried another 3-pointer from the left wing with 7:28 left for a 20-5 lead.
Jordan Ernst (10 points) answered right back with a 3 for Amboy (2-12, 0-3 Three Rivers Conference), but Fulton reeled off the next seven points. One of the baskets came when Amboy came out to defend Huebner, so he dribbled to the top of the key and found a seam down the lane for a layup.
Amboy, which trailed 29-12 at the half, crept back in the second half after Huebner found Dail for a layup on an inbounds play to put the Steamers ahead 31-12.
The Clippers responded with nine points in a row, a three-point play by Damon Quest pulling them within 31-21 with 5:40 remaining in the third quarter.
A 3-pointer by Kody Crosthwaite pushed Fulton’s lead back to 13, but Quest knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and then added a free throw with 2:53 left to get Amboy within 34-28. Quest, a 5-10 senior, led Amboy with 18 points.
“We got it down,” Payne said. “We came out and shot well, and they missed some. We got out and ran the floor. But, we’re a team that struggles scoring from time to time. It was a big gap to try to make up, but we sure gave it a try.”
Fulton regained control after that, with Barber taking over on the offensive end.
“I just kind of thought I needed to shoot a little more and shoulder the load,” Barber said. “My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball. Hubie started really hot, and that opened me for open looks.”
Sanderson scored on an inbounds play, then Barber delivered a 12-footer and a pair of 3-point baskets to close the third quarter. He went around a screen and drained a 23-footer from the top of the key in the final seconds for a 44-28 lead.
“That was kind of a big shot,” Barber said. “It got us back on track.”
But, Coffey said Fulton’s play on the other end also was important to regain momentum.
“(Devin) Kuehl and (Jason) Osborn came off the bench and gave us a little lift on defense,” he said.
The Steamers improved to 13-4, and 3-1 in the Three Rivers. They play their next two games on the road, Friday at Prophetstown and Tuesday at Morrison.
FULTON 56, AMBOY 38
AMBOY (2-12, 0-3) — Skylar Wheeler 0 0-0 0, Sam Klein 0 0-0 0, Logan Thake 1 0-0 2, Jordan Ernst 4 0-0 10, Damon Quest 6 4-9 18, Liam Ohlendorf 2 2-2 6, Ethan Shaw 1 0-0 2, Kyle Kemmerer 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 6-11 38.
FULTON (13-4, 3-1) — Matt Dail 2 0-0 4, Kody Crosthwaite 1 0-0 3, Seth Sanderson 5 1-3 11, Jason Osborn 1 0-0 2, Brevin Mason 0 0-0 0, Devin Kuehl 1 0-0 2, Zach Barber 6 1-3 16, Cody Huff 0 0-0 0, Kyle Huebner 6 1-2 18, Paul Velasco 0 0-0 0, Jake Willging 0 0-0 0, Collin Puckett 0 0-0 0, Alex Barber 0 0-0 0, Kyle Matthews 0 0-0 0, Lucas Wiebenga 0 0-0 0, Bryce Holesinger 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 3-8 56.
Amboy 5 7 16 10 — 38
Fulton 17 12 15 12 — 56
3-point goals — Amboy 4 (Ernst 2, Quest 2); Fulton 9 (Huebner 5, Barber 3, Crosthwaite). Total fouls — Amboy 12, Fulton 14. Fouled out — None.