ROCK FALLS – The halftime talk in the Rock Falls locker room dug a little deeper into the guts of the players than usual Tuesday night.
Actually, the guts weren't that hard to get to, with a flu bug buzzing around the room.
Nevertheless, the discussion had the desired effect. The Rockets came out firing in the third quarter to build a big enough lead to fend off the Oregon Hawks in a 68-61 Big Northern West win.
"We had guys like Austin Babcock and Connor Olson who were really hurting out there," Rock Falls coach Brad Bickett said. "Jace [Anderson] was out yesterday [Monday] with it. Yet, all of them were able to come up with big plays and make big shots for us.
"We've talked about toughness a lot lately, and tonight we saw just how tough these kids are."
The Rock Falls (12-4, 2-2 BNC West) run actually started in the last minute before halftime after Oregon had pulled within two points with a Jessie McKinley free throw.
Steven Armoska made a free throw to extend the lead to three and, after an Oregon turnover, Daegan Wharff tipped in a missed shot by Austin Donoho at the buzzer for a five-point lead.
"I thought that last minute of the half was a huge turning point in the game," Oregon coach Quinn Virgil said. "We had fought back to tie the game, and then they pulled away a little bit, because we didn't finish the quarter strong."
The teams traded buckets early in the third quarter before Anderson hit a 3-pointer that put the Rockets up 35-29. That was followed by two-point buckets by Olson, Armoska and Babcock that extended the lead to 14 points.
The Rockets shot 10-for-13 from the field in the third quarter and held a 54-36 lead at the buzzer.
"We knew that we had to pick up the pressure," Armoska said. "Usually it's the fourth quarter where we play better, but tonight it was the third. It was the whole team tonight. We had a lot of guys step up and hit big shots."
Oregon (9-7, 0-4) chipped away at the lead methodically in the fourth quarter. Forwards Caleb Mowry and Alex Cain combined for 18 of the team's 25 points in the rally.
The Hawks pulled within six with just over a minute left at 63-57, but Austin Donoho and Alex Leaf made five of six free-throw attempts in the last minute to ice the win.
Mowry led Oregon with 22 points and seven rebounds. Stopping the 6-foot-5 senior was the top priority for the Rockets. Armoska started on him, but Wharff, who had 10 points and four rebounds, had the responsibility most of the game.
"The points and the rebounds from Daegan were nice," Bickett said. "But the big contribution was the defense. He held his ground, which allowed Armoska to rotate over for the block."
Armoska had 20 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Cain drew the assignment of trying to slow his close friend.
"You know it's tough, because he's able to do so many things," Cain said. "He's a friend, so part of you wants to show him up on the other end. But it's fun. We've gotten to know each other really well through sports."
Cain finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Babcock, who remained in the locker room for a few minutes after half, finished with 12 points, including two 3-pointers.
Star of the game: Steven Armoska, Rock Falls, 20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks
Key performers: Caleb Mowry, Oregon, 22 points, 7 rebounds; Alex Cain, Oregon, 16 points, 7 rebounds; Daegan Wharff, Rock Falls, 10 points, 4 rebounds
Up next: Byron at Oregon, 7:15 p.m. Friday; Mendota at Rock Falls, 7:15 p.m. Friday