Keenan Shorter heard the whispers.|
How a steadily-improving Moline boys' basketball team let an upset of Rock Island slip through its fingers in overtime 11 days ago.
How the underdog Maroons were ready to take the next step Wednesday and pull a postseason surprise in the Class 4A East Moline Regional semifinals.
"We like it when teams going against us doubt us. That makes us go even harder,'' Shorter said after helping the state's eighth-ranked Rocks quiet the doubters with a 72-55 thrashing of their arch-rivals at the Panther Den.
"We didn't want to lose again. We lost last year in the first round (of regionals), so we knew we had to come out here and prove something, that we're not going home easy this year.''
By sweeping a three-game season series with fourth-seeded Moline (19-13), the top-seeded Rocks (23-4) earned a spot in Friday's regional title game at United Township.
The reigning four-time Western Big 6 Conference champs meet the winner of tonight's other semifinal, between Peoria Richwoods and Pekin, the latter Rocky's postseason foil in last season's regional opener.
"It really doesn't matter who we play,'' Shorter said, downplaying any revenge motive. "We just have to come out hard and play good defense again.''
That was the recipe for success against the Maroons, who trailed 27-21 at halftime despite a torrid 9-for-14 shooting performance before intermission. Moline finished 22-for-35, including 9-for-15 from the 3-point arc.
"We thought we were flying around too much (in the first half), helping when we shouldn't help, and they did a nice job of finding the open man when we left guys,'' Rocky coach Thom Sigel said. "So basically the message at halftime was we just needed to do our jobs (in the second half).''
Rock Island did that and more, picking up the defensive pressure. And Shorter exploded offensively, scoring 13 of his game-high 24 points in a game-turning third quarter.
A 15-3 run in the period was particularly devastating, with Shorter accounting for eight of those points.
"We played good defense, got some steals and got some easy buckets,'' Shorter said. "Coach wanted to turn up the pressure and take away their will to win. We did that.''
Rock Island forced 23 turnovers in all, and built a lead as large as 23 points midway through the fourth quarter before the benches emptied.
"We turned the ball over way too many times. You can't do that against a good team. They're going to make you pay for it,'' Moline coach Jeff Schimmel said. "They picked up the pressure and that has been our downfall all season.''
Schimmel also wasn't happy about the foul differential, earning a third-quarter technical foul for complaining about Rocky being whistled nine times to Moline's 20. As a result, the foul-shooting differential was 34 for the Rocks (23 of them made) to three for the Maroons (two makes).
"I'm not going to criticize the officials. That didn't cost us, obviously,'' Schimmel said. "It's just the difference between the two styles of basketball. They play aggressive and it's 9-to-4 us in fouls (in the second half)? If we get the calls, it's a different game. If we don't, that's the result. But we have to do a better job of handling that pressure (defense).''
Trey Sigel (15 points) and Robert Johnson (10) also scored in double figures for Rocky.
Moline got strong efforts from Drew Owens (16 points, game-best 9 assists), Brandon Vice (13 points, game-high 11 rebounds) and Tyler Biscontine (11 points). The latter two return for the Maroons next season.
"I couldn't have asked for a better group in my first season,'' Schimmel said. "They played as a team. They played for each other. They set the tone for where we're going with this program. We have some nice pieces coming up, and this is something we can build on for the future.''