ROXANA — The Roxana Shells took their best shot at state-ranked Metro East Lutheran on Tuesday at Larry Milazzo Gym, but it wasn't quite enough to pull out the victory.
MELHS defeated the Shells 55-49. Roxana dipped to 14-8, while the Knights, ranked No. 6 in the latest Class 1A state poll, improved to 21-3.
“We asked them in practice yesterday if they were scared of Metro East and they said no,” Roxana head coach Mark Briggs said. “I believe in their heart they respected them, but they don't fear anybody and I think that's the mentality these kids have and they'll go at anybody.”
MELHS head coach Anthony Smith was a little perturbed at the play of his team on Tuesday. He thought the defensive effort lacked intensity. The two leading scorers for the Shells, Trace Gentry and Zach Golenor, were able to get many open looks, scoring 19 and 17 points respectively. Smith thought there should have been a bigger focus to limit them.
“We knew Roxana was going to come out and play a good game,” Smith said. “Did my basketball team show up and play? I don't know if they necessarily did. We turned the ball over. I think we were still in Litchfield living on that (tournament) win. They've beat some quality teams so we knew we were in for a good game, but I thought we would have played a little better.
“We probably got a B-, C+ tonight. Our defense wasn't there and we knew Gentry was going to get some shots, but he got a ton of open looks, Golenor got a ton of open looks and those are the guys that score for them. We went over that in the scouting report and they still got open looks. It's one of those things where we're either going to get better, or we're going to be home come end of regionals.”
The game opened in a stalemate. The two teams traded baskets with a bucket by Blake Vandiver propelling the Shells on top 8-6 at the close of the first quarter.
It was much the same in the second quarter. Noah Coddington sank a 3-pointer to put Metro ahead 11-8 early, but Golenor answered with a trey of his own a few seconds later to tie it at 11-11 at 6:53. Gentry knocked down a 3-pointer at 5:18 to put Roxana up 14-13.
The Shells and Knights continued to trade baskets until a Vandiver 3-pointer at the 1:55 mark pushed Roxana ahead 21-18. Coddington then got to the line with 1:32 to go in the half, hitting the front end of two free throws. When he missed the second, A.J. Risavy grabbed the rebound and put it back in to knot it at 21-21. That's how it stayed entering the break.
The Shells held MELHS' three leading scorers, Teddy Fifer, Jason Johnson and Kenrique Brown to just five points in the first half, but Coddington stepped up with a game-high 10 points. Briggs said they took a risk leaving Coddington open at times and it burned them.
“Going into the game we were going to find out if he could beat us and when he knocked down a couple shots it made it tough,” Briggs said. “I still think our defensive approach, they want to run a lot of ball screens and their offense really revolves around getting ball screens and getting their guards off it and we clogged that stuff up. They had nobody to screen and really didn't know what to do offensively. There was a reason we did what we did.”
Smith added, “Coddington is like a hidden gem. Nobody really knows about him. They know about him, but they aren't like, 'If you shut Coddington down you're going to beat Metro.' Shut Teddy and Brown down and stop Johnson and then you got a game, but then Noah shows up, like up in Litchfield he hit some huge shots. He's kind of under the radar and that's good for us and we'd like to keep it that way because people just let him shoot.”
The Knights came out of the break, climbing on top 28-23 at the 5:20 mark following a trey by Garrett Niemeier and a bucket by Johnson.
Leads were traded via the 3-pointer late with Golener putting Roxana ahead 33-32, Brown shooting Metro on top 35-32, Golenor then making it 36-35 and Johnson hitting a trey to make it 38-36 in favor of MELHS at the 1:38 mark.
Gentry tied it 38-38 with 1:05 to play, but a 3-pointer by Fifer with 34.1 seconds remaining pushed the Knights in front 41-38 at the close of the third quarter.
Gentry tied it 41-41 with a trey at the 7:49 mark of the fourth quarter, but a 5-0 spree by MELHS made it 46-41 with 5:45 to go in the game. Coddington highlight the short run with a steal and a dunk. Metro never trailed again.
A traditional 3-point play by Golenor sliced it to 51-49 with 30.8 seconds left, but the Shells could never get over the hump, missing some open looks down the stretch.
“There were some turnovers at bad times,” Briggs said. “We turned the ball over at least three times against that zone ball press, there were a couple of miscues on handoffs trying to get the ball in some of our guards hands, but overall I thought we gave up five to six inches at each position and I felt like we did a nice job guarding Johnson and really worked hard to negate their size. I thought our kids played well defensively, executed a pretty good plan.”
Coddington paced the Knights with 15 points, while Brown chipped in 13 and Johnson netted 10 in the win. Vandiver scored 7 points to complement Gentry and Golenor in the loss for the Shells.
Roxana returns to South Central Conference action at 7:30 p.m. Friday, playing host to Carlinville.
MELHS 55, ROXANA 49
MELHS 6 15 20 14 — 55
Roxana 8 13 17 11 — 49
ROXANA (14-8) — Blake Vandiver 7, Trace Gentry 19, Zach Golenor 17, Zack Haas 2, Chance Foss 2, Cody McMillen 2. 2PT — 11 3PT — 7 FT — 6 PF — 15.
MELHS (21-3) — Teddy Fifer 6, Kenrique Brown 13, Jason Johnson 10, A.J. Risavy 2, Noah Coddington 15, Brenden Woolsey 6, Garrett Niemeier 3. 2PT — 16 3PT — 5 FT — 8 PF — 8.