"They're not big but they play big:" Morgan Township excels with balanced offense, tenacious defense
UNION MILLS -- With no one in their playing rotation taller than 6-foot-2, Morgan Township doesn't strike an intimidating pose as it walks onto the floor.
"There have been plenty of teams who I think have looked over us just because you don't see how hard we play until you actually go out on the court," senior Tyce Kolan said.
And once the ball is tossed in the air, it's a different story.
"I told the coach (Kevin Krieger) before the game it's one of the most fun teams to watch because they're not big, but they play big," South Central's Eric Speer said "They're not afraid, they're aggressive, and they get after you. They defend like crazy. We as the coaches were not shocked. I think our players heard it, but to see it, it definitely affected us. They were tougher, they were smarter, they played harder, they worked harder."
That was the gist of the message that Krieger gave his team back on Dec. 10 after a 56-32 loss to Marquette Catholic that left the Cherokees at 3-2.
"That was our turning point," Krieger said. "Since then, we have clicked on both ends of the court."
Morgan (15-4) has gone 12-2 since and clinched a share of the Porter County Conference round-robin title Monday, suffocating South Central 62-24.
"Coach made a point of bringing us together after the Marquette game," senior Nate Lemmons said. "Ever since that, it's been gong really good for us. We've been very well-rounded as a team, true teammates. It's been a blast this season."
The Cherokees went 10-9 last year in Krieger's first season, three years removed from a successful decade tenure as the school's girls coach. They graduated their top two scorers, including Tate Ivanyo (1,003 career points), but returned an experienced supporting cast comprised largely of of seniors that accounted for about 25 points a game among them.
"Me, Ian (Grieger), Grayson (Lemmons) and Tyce (Kolan) have been playing together since we were really young," Nate Lemmons said. "I think that competitive drive, just practicing together, playing in each other's back yards and driveways, has really made us play as hard as we can. No one wants to lose. After having some of the younger guys play last year, they've built up and been a part of how hard we play."
Rising sophomore Keagen Holder, whose sister Kia played for Krieger, leads Morgan in scoring at 12 points per game, but six players average at least five per game.
"We play hard and we play together at both ends of the court and that's our biggest strength," Krieger said. "These guys are unselfish. They share the ball. They're all on the same page. We play well as a team. At some point in the season, everybody has stepped up and contributed. It's one team. That is a coach's dream. It's been really fun to coach this group."
Against South Central, no one scored in double figures with eight Cherokees notching between five and nine points.
"We don't care who scores on what night," Kolan said. "We all work together to get the buckets we need and play team defense together."
Morgan ranks in the top 20 in the state in defensive average at 41.6, a number that's dictated by a methodical pace. The Cherokees get after it in their man-to-man approach that incorporates pressure when needed.
"We spend a lot more time in transition, trying to stop it and trying to score off of it," Krieger said. "The last couple games, we haven't used our press. We play good team defense. We do a good job of limiting what they want to do, their first and second options, and make them grind possessions."
While they don't turn heads physically, there is a noticeable air of confidence among the players that has translated in their performance.
"It's really just our positive attitude, our mentality going into games," Kolan said. "We look at teams, we don't ever think of losing, even going against bigger guys."
Morgan looks to wrap up the title outright Friday against PCC cellar dweller Washington Township. It will play rival Kouts for the third time in next week's Class A Kouts Sectional.
"I thought we would be talented and toward the top," said Krieger. "These guys set a goal to win the (PCC) tournament. After we lost to Kouts in overtime, they said another goal was to finish this off undefeated in the regular season, and we've got one more."