MOMENCE — Momence picked a picked an exceptionally dramatic occasion to finally notch its first Sangamon Valley Conference win of the season at home against Cissna Park on Friday.
Entering the contest at the bottom of the SVC standings with an 0-5 record in conference play, it wouldn’t have been a popular prediction that Momence would come out on top for the first time. The Timberwolves traveled to Momence sporting the very inverse record, sitting atop the conference at 5-0.
Expectations aside, however, Momence not only sent the Timberwolves packing with a 72-67 win — they did it without ever trailing in an impressive takedown of one of the area’s most successful squads.
“They are a really good ball club, we were just able to make some shots, get some key rebounds and succeed at the little things we’ve been struggling with over the last couple of games,” said Momence coach Kevin Ecker. “Tonight it all came together for us.”
Though Cissna Park made things plenty interesting at a couple of key moments in the contest by pulling within one point late in the third and then within two points with just 19 seconds left in regulation, Momence was able to hold the line and maintain control despite the immense pressure from Ian Rogers and the heavily-favored visitors.
After being held in check for the vast majority of the contest, Rogers erupted for 16 points in Cissna Park’s furious fourth quarter as they scrambled to avoid a disappointing loss and preserve their unblemished SVC record. Though he finished with a game-high 23 points and almost single-handedly engineered a huge comeback, some clutch free-throws from Momence’s Johnnie Williams, Jared Espino and Jasper Jones in the final minute kept the victory out of reach.
Momence’s success was largely predicated on its ability to control the pace of the game as they out-ran and out-hustled the Timberwolves for all but the final few minutes of the win. They looked very similar at time to previous Ecker-coached Momence teams that have thrived on speed and intensity to overwhelm opponents — something the 2019-20 team has lacked in comparison to teams from years past.
Ironically though, a chuckling Ecker commented after the game that the strategy they entered the contest hoping to employ was exactly the opposite of the high-speed, fast break offense that worked so well against the scrambling Timberwolves defense.
“I was hoping for a much slower game. That’s kind of the reason we played the zone — we’ve been having trouble scoring offensively,” Ecker said with a laugh. “Tonight it didn’t seem that way, but it was something that we knew we could use to dictate the way the game was played. But tonight we were able to get a lot of fast breaks which allowed us to get some baskets early and often.”
Momence’s defense, especially from its guards, was a huge factor in producing those fast breaks. The zone defense worked wonderfully against the sharp-shooting Timberwolves as their normally crisp offense committed turnover after turnover in the face of Momence’s sustained intensity.
Espino, Jaden Walls and Jhett Anderson kept the motor in high-gear in an impressive defensive performance that proved absolutely crucial in the upset win.
But it was the offensive efforts of Jones and Williams that made the largest impact. The duo put up 16 points apiece in the upset and they scored seven each in the fourth quarter in the face of Cissna Park’s rally as it threatened to overwhelm Momence. Along with a clutch fourth frame from sophomore Haven Roberts, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final minutes, Momence held strong in the face of a much more experienced squad with a reputation for scoring in bursts.
“The feeling is just crazy. You know, you expect to come into these games and give it your best, but tonight we really came out unified as a team and just killed it,” Jones said. “It’s tense, but there’s a reason we do drills in practice that prepare us from high pressure situations like these. We really played so good as team tonight. Everybody.
“I think it shows a lot of grit and how good of a team we know we can be when we’re playing to our full potential,” he added. “When we’re playing to our highest potential, I think we can be one of the hardest teams to beat anywhere in the area.”
The win could prove a major shot in the arm for a Momence program that hasn’t reached the level of performance it has been used to throughout this season. It improves their season standing to 10-17 overall and 1-5 in conference, but Ecker hopes they can utilize the significance of the SVC upset to gin up some momentum as they enter the postseason next week.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, dropped to 18-9 and 5-1 as a result of the surprise setback. They’ll hope to get back on track and snap what is now a three-game skid when they take on Tri-Point at home in Cissna Park on Tuesday.