CICERO – After winning with style points in many of its recent wins, Morton’s boys basketball team had to play ugly to win a regional.
The Mustangs took on Conant, a team notorious for its slow down pace, in the regional final at Morton East on Friday. Morton came out with a 35-24 victory to win its first regional since 2009 to advance to Tuesday’s sectional semifinal against York.
The Cougars led 16-12 in the second quarter before a Morton run turned the game around. The Mustangs led 26-16 midway through the third quarter and held off a Conant comeback despite not making a single field goal in the fourth quarter. That was just one of the many strange stats to come out of that game.
“It was rough, we knew that going in,” Morton coach Tony Martinucci said. “We tried everything to speed them up and we couldn’t do it.”
All 10 Morton points in the fourth quarter came on free throws. They also held Conant to just two points in the final quarter and eight for the second half. Both teams had extended scoring droughts, largely because the Cougars often held the ball for more than a minute, trying to ensure the game would come down to the final minutes.
Weisner Perez had 13 points and 12 rebounds while Jarvis Cannon added 12 points.
The Mustangs played in front of a full house for the regional final, which provided a huge boost despite the slow tempo.
“If it would have been a neutral game, it could have been tough,” Martinucci said. “The crowd was a major factor in the game. When you’re playing defense that long you can get bummed out and bored. The crowd really helped keep us energized.”
Of course, Friday’s game wasn’t the best advertisement for a Morton team that had regularly been scoring in the 70s and 80s coming into the game.
“You got 3,000 people going, What are we watching?” Martinucci said. “They’re not used to that. We’re used to scoring that in a quarter and a half, whether we win or lose.”
It is the third regional title for the Mustangs under Martinucci. The coach mentioned that regional titles in Class 4A are only getting tougher to win.
“It just means a lot to the kids,” he said. “In 4A it’s so hard. Across the board you got 20-win teams. That’s why it meant a lot. The kids were psyched up to do it.”
Morton 36, Conant 24
• Weisner Perez: 13 points, 12 rebounds
• Jarvis Cannon: 12 points