CERRO GORDO — It didn’t take long for St. Teresa to assert its presence in the 91st annual Macon County Boys Basketball Tournament.
The top-seeded Bulldogs erupted for 34 first-quarter points en route to a 74-33 win against Sangamon Valley in Monday’s first-round game.
St. Teresa forced 10 first-quarter turnovers to open its transition offense for easy layups. Sangamon Valley finished with 30 turnovers in the game.
It was the best defensive performance yet this season for the Bulldogs (2-1).
“The main thing we’ve talked about is just make sure our rotations were at the right spot,” St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan said. “Our first two games I didn’t feel like we had the right ball pressure and tonight that was an emphasis. Our guys did a good job pressuring the basketball and made good rotations and we were able to turn them over quite a bit.’
Isaiah Bond led St. Teresa with 22 points, including 11 in the second quarter.
Cayden Brilley knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter on the way to an 11-point performance for the Bulldogs and Tyler Phillips added 14 points.
But it was the rebounding of St. Teresa — Phillips and Michael Less in particular — that controlled the game.
Phillips pulled down six rebounds and Less had seven to go along with his 11 points.
“That’s something we work on a lot in practice is rebounding. I would say at least 60 percent of our practice is rebounding," Phillips said.
“If they don’t get the rebound they can’t score again.”
Like defense, rebounding has been a work in progress for St. Teresa so far this season.
“I thought Michael was very active,” Noonan said. “Michael is so darn long and Tyler has a great motor going for him. One of the things we emphasized from the first day was that we had to become a good rebounding team. It wasn’t great our first game, the second game was better and tonight was our best.”
St. Teresa’s zone defense allowed 5-foot-7 Sangamon Valley freshman Stanley Smith to have open 3-pointers, and he capitalized.
Smith connected on 5-of-7 triples, all five came from well behind the 3-point line.
He finished with a team-high 16 points and Kale Pollard scored 6 for the Storm (0-6).
“I thought we handled it pretty well,” Sangamon Valley coach Josh Myers said. “We did some good things and made some shots, got some stops and I thought we boxed out OK. (Mason) Hemmingway does a great job trying to box out, but there’s some length and they’re a good team. We’ll just be ready to go on Wednesday and use this to figure out where to go and the zones. It was a good experience for us.”
Meridian 82, Argenta-Oreana 63
Argenta-Oreana simply couldn’t get into a rhythm.
The Hawks forced turnover after turnover and turned those into fast-break points in their first-round win in the Macon County Tournament.
Argenta-Oreana (0-3) had 12 first-half turnovers, allowing Meridian to take a 44-24 halftime lead.
“It was a good all-around team effort,” Meridian coach Jay Driscoll said. “We did a nice job in the first half playing defense and turning our defense into easy buckets at the other end. Our transition game really helped us.”
Argenta coach Matt Hall wasn’t sure it was as much the defensive effort of the Hawks as it was the lack of experience on his team, which won the tournament last season under coach Tom Saunches, who is now at LSA.
“I don’t know that it was so much the press as much as our inexperience as a group,” Argenta coach Matt Hall said. “I’m playing with a group of kids who haven’t really seen the varsity court at all. As a whole, collectively, this was pretty much their third game.”
Garrett Meisenhelter led Meridian with 24 points, including a 10-of-13 effort from the free-throw line.
“Garrett had 24 points and did a really good job of getting to the basket and creating his own shot. He’s not just a shooter," Driscoll said.
But it was 6-foot-6 Meridian big man Connor Hurelbrink who was a mismatch for the Bombers.
Hurelbrink finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, often converting on second-chance opportunities.
“They were a lot smaller than me so it was easier to put myself in the right spot, get the rebound and put it back up,” Hurelbrink said.
“They did a good job all night of rebounding the basketball,” Hall said. “We’re still trying to figure out what it takes at this level and what it takes to compete at the varsity level.”
After trailing by 19 points early in the second quarter, Argenta trimmed the lead to 9 midway through the frame before Meridian opened back up a 20-point lead.
“We have a deep bench,” Hall said. “I feel comfortable with nine or 10 kids deep. When we can really buy in and show that effort on the defensive side of the floor, we’re capable of creating some early offense. That’s what happened for us. We had some guys come in off the bench, Cameron Meyer, for one, gave us a lot of defensive effort there and it turned into a little bit of a run.”
Drew Johnson paced Argenta with 17 points and Josh Williams had 10.
“Johnson did a nice job of taking it to the basket and finishing,” Driscoll said. “We finally started playing more defense and bumped it back up to 20. It was a good job by us taking their mini run and doing a good job of playing.”
Meridian will play St. Teresa at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the semifinal round.