By CJ PETERS
PORTER TWP. — Kaden Manna came into Wednesday night riding a five-game heater in which the Marquette Catholic senior had posted a double-double.
In preparation for its semifinal game against Manna and Marquette in the Red-Blue Classic, Boone Grove and coach Matt McKay made it clear that limiting the 6-foot-5 Manna's post presence, along with 6-4 Lukas Balling, was going to be imperative.
“If you look at our blackboard in (the locker room), it’ll say, ‘Block out, board’ four times on there,” McKay said. “We aren’t as big and they had a little more size than we did, but not by a lot; enough size where we had to execute with our blocking out.”
With a front line featuring a pair of 6-4 forwards in Daekwon Coleman and Jarrod Benkovich and 6-2 brute Drew Murray, host Boone was able to hold Marquette down in the paint, while senior standout Trey Steinhilber went off for 27 points in a 52-45 win.
“(Daekwon) and (Drew) have some girth and strength to them and Jarrod has some pretty good ups and he’s long, so we had a couple different looks we were able to throw at (Manna),” McKay said. “We were leaning on him with our big guys and then had Jared help and maybe make him adjust his shot a little bit.
“I thought once Manna got his shot blocked a couple times, since I don’t think he’s really used to that, it seemed to kind of throw him off his game for a while, which helped us quite a bit. I’ve seen him dominate games.”
Steinhilber got rolling early with nine first-quarter points, hitting two of his three 3s, the first of which gave Boone Grove (5-1) an 8-5 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. He added five rebounds, joining Murray and Benkovich, who also had at least five.
“We just had to block out, block out and board,” Steinhilber said. “We controlled the boards all game. Whether it was Daekwon, Drew or Jarrod, it was all of us. We just bought in and we had a good win.
“We wanted to deny and stay in front of them. We have trouble staying in front sometimes, but we really were able to do that. We kind of let loose there in the third quarter, but we recovered and stayed with it.”
The 6-1 Steinhilber scored 18 in the first half for a 12-point lead, a margin that was as much as 16 twice. He was 6-of-8 from the charity stripe.
“I hit a couple 3s in the first, but they weren’t really falling after that,” Steinhilber said. “It was just about getting to the basket. It’s the second game of the day, you have no legs and you’re gonna be short on a lot of jump shots, so you gotta be able to get to the rim.”
Benkovich and Mason Bills added eight and seven points, respectively, for the Wolves.
“We were just making shots,” Steinhilber said of the strong first half. “Our goal was to come out strong. We knew they had just played and we had just played, so we wanted to jump on them early and get the lead so we didn’t have to come back.
“We were moving the ball, cutting hard and hitting backdoor cuts and since they were denying pretty hard, those backdoors were really key.”
After averaging 17.4 points a game as a junior, Steinhilber has jumped to over 20 a game with McKay referring to a ‘strength factor’ as one of the reasons for the uptick in production.
“He doesn’t look a whole lot stronger than he was last year, but he’s finishing some of these difficult lay-ups now,” McKay said. “He drew a couple of 3-point plays where he took the contact and finished it. Some got called and some didn’t, but he was still able to finish them.
“He shoots the ball well enough, too, where you have to respect that.”
Marquette coach Ray Tarnow called the game ‘a nice eye-opener.’
“They did a nice job of what we’re trying to do, which was a better job of pushing the pace, but when it’s in the half-court, then grinding it out and getting a good shot,” Tarnow said. “They did a much better job of that than us. We were stale in the half-court offense, like we were in mud.
“Part of that is kudos to them because they played tremendous defense, but we did a lot of things wrong to hurt ourselves.”
Jason Kobe led Marquette (3-4) with 15 points. Gary Lewis and Balling each added 12, with Balling being the only Blazer to hit a 3-pointer, connecting on three of them. Manna was held to six points, but had 13 rebounds and three blocks.
“I think we missed some shots we normally make, and we gotta make those,” Tarnow said. “We gotta make shots when they’re open and I’m not just talking about 3s, but in the paint, we gotta make those.”
Tarnow credited BG for getting it after defensively, holding Marquette to a season-low in points.
“They were very good in recovery and on the help-side,” he said. “They did a great job with on-ball defense. That made it hard for us to get the ball into the post and that’s something we preach, too, like if we’re better defenders on the perimeter, then it’s a harder entry into the post.
“They did a really nice job handling us in the post, which to be quite honest, surprised me. We had a tough time moving down there, they’re a very physical, good basketball team.”
The Blazers used an 8-0 run to start the fourth to get within four. They’d get within three twice in the final three minutes, only for the Wolves to answer.
“We were getting pressure on top and we were more physical and communicated better defensively,” Tarnow said. “You know, you make a couple shots and things start to roll your way. We were able to get more transition baskets and got to the basket more in the second half.
“You can’t live-and-die by the 3. It’s nice when we’re hitting them, but it covers up a lot of things. We didn’t hit shots and it showed.”
In both instances Marquette got within three, Steinhilber dropped a dime to Murray for a lay-up and then hit a pair of free throws with 35.9 seconds left.
“When they got back in the game, we just put the ball in Trey’s hands and let him create a little bit,” McKay said. “He didn’t score all the points, but he found guys that were wide open and we were able to get some big baskets late.”
Having lost 58-56 in last year’s Red-Blue Classic game, McKay said it wanted to jump on Marquette early and see if it can flip the script this time around.
“We laid an egg last week against Kankakee Valley at their place, and they’re a pretty good team, but we didn’t play very well,” McKay said. “We wanted to come back and play well against good competition and Marquette is traditionally, and is again this year, pretty talented. It was good to get a win.”
As the calendar switches into the new year, the word sure to be driven home with Marquette is ‘consistent.’
“I keep using the word, but we just haven’t been consistent,” Tarnow said. “There are times where we look really good and times where we look really bad. We need to find more of a middle point, just be consistent.
“It doesn’t mean it has to be outstanding, like don’t be horrible, just be consistently good, and that’s what (Boone) did. They were consistently good and that’s where we gotta get, and that’s on me.”