MARENGO — Senior Ryan Simmons converted a trio of 3-pointers to spark the Rochelle Hub varsity basketball team during its final game of the E.C. Nichols Holiday Classic on Thursday.
Simmons scored nine of his team-high 17 points in the first quarter, allowing the Hubs to take a 22-11 lead over Woodstock North. Rochelle struggled to make shots as the game progressed, however, with the Thunder’s 2-3 zone defense proving highly effective in a 58-56 victory over the Hubs. Rochelle (5-8, 2-1 Interstate 8) finished with a 1-3 record at the tournament.
“Ryan got off to a fast start, but they tried slowing us down by extending a 2-3 zone defense and that absolutely worked,” head coach Tim Thompson said. “We started turning the ball over too much and we finished with over 20 turnovers for the third straight game. We’re not putting ourselves in positions to win games by turning the ball over as much as we are right now.”
Woodstock North slowly worked its way back into the game, bringing Rochelle within four points by halftime with the Hubs leading 31-27. Despite cold shooting from the perimeter, Rochelle couldn’t cut through the Thunder’s zone defense, which utilized its length and quick rotations to force several turnovers. Behind senior guard Rex White, who led Woodstock North with 17 points, the Thunder took their first lead near the end of the third quarter.
“It’s on our kids to keep players from penetrating,” Thompson said. “We’ve gotten into trouble when we allow the first player to get into the lane. [White] hit a couple of tough shots near the end of that game, but the big issue we had in the game was how badly we were outrebounded on the offensive end. They destroyed us there and they were able to get multiple shots during each possession. We shot about 50 percent on 2-pointers, but they had twice as many shots.”
The Hubs nearly fell behind by double digits before fighting back near the end of the fourth quarter, with senior forward Cooper Hasz battling for offensive rebounds to give Rochelle extra possessions. As the clock wound down, Hasz forced a turnover on a Woodstock North inbounds pass, but a last-second shot from Simmons to win the game rimmed out as time expired. Senior Noah Brown finished with 13 points for Rochelle, while Hasz totaled eight points.
“I’ve been pleased with the way Cooper has played and he gave us a chance to win at the end by getting his hands on the ball,” Thompson said. “He’s been a beast on the boards for us. When it comes down to rebounding, it’s all about heart and when I went back and watched the film, I saw that we’re not doing a good job of putting a body on guys. We have a lot of kids with length, but we’re not really physical and our kids are going to have to get over that. “