MILLEDGEVILLE – It was a tall order for Milledgeville to venture in amongst Morrison's trees and expect much good to happen.
Once the the Missiles took that challenge, however, good things did indeed happen, and the result was a 66-56 victory over the Mustangs in a nonconference matchup Monday in Milledgeville.
"It's been playing as a team," junior guard Jordan Harris said. "We're giving each other extra passes, we're knocking down shots – we're really playing as a team this year, as opposed to other years."
The Missiles (5-0) hit four first-quarter 3-pointers to build an early lead, but settled for a 27-27 halftime tie once the threes dried up (0-for-6 in the second quarter), along with an inability to hit free throws. Milledgeville was just 3-for-8 from the line the first 16 minutes.
Morrison (2-3) started off hot in the third quarter, and the Mustangs seized a 42-34 lead when senior forward Bill Lee Greul banked in a 3-pointer.
The Missiles, however, fought back with a basket from Harris and a 3-point play from junior forward Lucas Ebersole to narrow the gap to 42-39 entering the final quarter.
The Milledgeville surge continued in the fourth quarter, as baskets from senior center Caleb Skoog, Ebersole and Harris capped off an 11-0 run and put Milledgeville ahead 47-42 with 6 minutes, 28 seconds to play.
Morrison got to within three points at 52-49 following a 3-point play from Triston Houzenga with 4:33 remaining, but it was all Milledgeville the rest of the way.
Harris had a pair of 3-point plays during an 11-2 run to put the game on ice. He finished with 26 points on 8-for-15 shooting, dropped in all six of his free throws and led the Milledgeville charge of venturing into the paint.
"Coach told us we needed to get to the rim and get some fouls called on them," Harris said.
"Teams like Morrison give us problems with their size," Milledgeville coach Brian Rahn said, "so we wanted to attack the basket. Our previous game, where we ended up knocking down a bunch of threes, maybe was still in their head, so they wanted to get a heat check and see if they were knocking anything down.
"The kids did a great job of adjusting, getting to the basket and drawing some fouls."
Harris was far from a one-man show. Ebersole finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, Zach Herin and Skoog each had seven points, Kameron DawTyne had six points and Blake Kappes added five points and four boards.
Milledgeville also held their own on the boards (a 32-24 deficit), and perhaps most importantly, committed just six turnovers.
For Morrison coach Dave Peugh, the key was an inability to deal with Harris, who repeatedly got inside the Morrison zone defense to wreak havoc.
"Harris is a very nice player," Peugh said. "He got in the lane a few times and broke us down. That was one of our keys in our zone – you can't let penetration in the middle. When he got it, everything breaks down."
Gruel paced the Mustangs with 17 points, Hunter Hamstra had 12, and Mason Sitzmore and Scott Ferry added eight each. Ferry and Hamstra each added six boards apiece.
The Mustangs, with six players at 6-2 or taller (the Missiles have one in the 6-5 Skoog) among their main seven-man rotation, won the rebound battle and committed just 12 turnovers, but some questionable shot selection did them in, according to Peugh.
"I actually thought we panicked a little bit with the basketball," Peugh said. "We had the lead, and we shot the first available shot that was out there."
Star of the game: Jordan Harris, Milledgeville, 26 points
Key performers: Lucas Ebersole, Milledgeville, 15 points, 7 rebounds; Bill Lee Greul, Morrison, 17 points
Up next: Morrison at Prophetstown, 7:30 Dec. 13; Pecatonica at Milledgeville, 7:30 Friday