Short-handed Westminster Christian stayed with much taller Mooseheart until a halftime adjustment unleashed the unique abilities of 6-foot-10 senior Makur Puou in a 62-42 Northeastern Athletic Conference boys basketball victory for the Red Ramblers in Elgin Thursday.
IHSBCA hall of fame coach Bruce Firchau directed his Warriors to open the game in a box-and-one defense with 5-11 senior guard Conner Rejman shadowing 6-7 Mooseheart senior Mangisto "Manny" Deng. The scheme helped limit the Red Ramblers to 10-of-28 shooting in the first half and Firchau credited Rejman for holding Deng to 6 points on the night.
In fact, Westminster Christian (3-4, 0-1), playing without sophomore starting forward Robert Kleczynski until January due to a shoulder injury, drew within 20-19 with 1:54 left in the first half on sophomore Dillion Rejman's third 3-pointer of the first half. However, a 7-2 run staked the Red Ramblers to a 27-21 halftime lead, a surge fueled by guard Hameed Odunewu's breakaway layup and 3-pointer. Odunewu scored 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
The second half was all Puou. He scored 9 points and hauled in 7 rebounds in the third quarter, and he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on 5-of-6 shooting to help Mooseheart (4-2, 2-0) pull away.
"We came back after halftime with a different offense so we could score on them," Puou said. " They were double teaming me down low, so I started outside so I can drive by my (defender) or cut. They are good players and they play good defense, so I had to cut and go real hard. That's what was different."
Puou's final line was a rarity: 28 points on 12-of-22 shooting, 16 rebounds (7 offensive), 9 blocked shots and 2 steals. Consider the Warriors impressed.
"Twenty years from now he still might be the best player that ever played in this gym," Firchau said. "Last spring Wichita State and Indiana State were heavily recruiting him. He could play on any team in the state and be one of the top two players on the team, I don't care if it's Simeon or Proviso East or you name it. He's the real thing. His size and his shooting touch and his leaping ability, how do you neutralize that as a coach? You can only do so many things."
The Red Ramblers outscored Westminster 17-9 in the third quarter to take a 44-30 lead. The Warriors missed their first 6 shots of the quarter and committed 6 of their 19 turnovers. Mooseheart outrebounded Westminster 17-6 in the period and 40-21 overall.
"We played a lot better with some of the adjustments we made," Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. "When it's close like that, our guys seem to have an extra gear. They came out and played a lot harder. We tried to set up everything with our defense. I thought we played pretty good defense the entire game. We lost (Dillion Rejman) a few times in the first half, but we didn't lose him in the second half."
Junior Sam Carani led the Warriors with 15 points and 6 rebounds, and Dillion Rejman finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds. Freshman Nick Kleczynski, making his first varsity start, scored 8 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.