JOHNSTON — Sapping the energy out of the opponent is a sure-fire way to help ensure a victory, a message Ned Menke’s Perry basketball team is beginning to take to heart.
Perry’s suffocating defense made Boone work hard for every point and slowly but surely quenched the Toreador’s fire, allowing the Bluejays to dominate from the opening tip for a 75-57 victory in their Class 3A District 15 Final Thursday.
Now 14-9, Perry will face 19-4 Glenwood Monday at 7 p.m. in Atlantic for the Substate 8 title and a spot in the state tournament. The Rams were come-from-behind 63-61 winners over 18-5 Atlantic Thursday.
A frenetic and aggressive defensive approach helped Perry race to a 16-7 lead over DC-G Monday and did the same again Thursday, as the Jays spread an 8-2 advantage to a 22-6 gap after eight minutes of play.
“We started to really work on turning up the defense in practice a few weeks ago,” Perry junior Kyle Nevitt said. “We decided we were not going to sit back and let the other team drive on us or just take clean shots. The idea is to have a good, aggressive defense that attacks, and it is working for us.”
Menke has long preached the value of a strong defense and could not be happier to see his players taking it to heart.
“The last two games, in particular, have seen us get out to some really fast starts,” he noted. “We allowed only seven points (in the first period) Monday and just six tonight while scoring 16 and now 22.
“When that happens it just feeds our offense and then the other team has to spend a lot of energy to get back into the game,” Menke said. “We are playing with a lot of emotion right now, but we are also staying in our heads, so to speak, and playing smart basketball.”
At least seven different media outlets of differing kinds were at the game, some simply because of the recent “controversy” surrounding unsportsmanlike jeers directed at the Perry girls team Saturday, and, especially, the apparently politically-linked chants from Monday’s game. Although Thursday’s game was played with no such antics, the additional attention could have easily been a distraction, Menke said.
“You never know how the kids are going to react,” the coach remarked. “What we needed to do was but the past few days behind us and just go out and play basketball. I could not be happier with how our guys handled the whole situation and how we were able to concentrate on what we needed to do on the court.”
“Of course we heard about it at school the past few days but we want to put it behind us,” Nevitt said. “We had a game to worry about, not all that other stuff.”
Senior guard Shammond Ivory agreed.
“You could not ignore it, but once we got on the bus tonight everything changed,” he said. “We had a talk and said ‘They know us and we know them’ so lets just go out and play hard. All the other stuff is in the past now. We have goals to reach and how we play is what will matter the most.”
Ivory, who had a game-high 22 points Thursday, said the intensity of the Perry defense helps spark his own offensive attack.
“For me, personally, but really more for us as a team, it gets us going when the defense frustrates the other team,” he related. “Now we are back in the substate finals and I could not be happier.”
Perry raced to an 8-2 lead before a play that would typify the rest of the game helped the Jays begin to pull away.
Leading 12-4, Nevitt sank the first of two free throws. His miss was rebounded by Connor Nielsen, who handed off to a cutting Nevitt for a basket and a 15-4 lead that helped Perry grab a 22-6 edge at the end of one period.
Boone sophomore Johnathan Herrick often serves as a spark plug for the Toreadors and entered the game with 19 blocked shots and a 10.7 points per game average. He had 15 points in Boone’s 19-point home win over Perry but did not play in their 29-point loss at PHS.
He drew three quick fouls in the first quarter and was held to only two points in limited action the rest of the way.
Perry post player Janier Puente said attacking Herrick was part of the game plan.
“He is a key player for them, so we wanted to take the ball right at him, to see if we could get him in foul trouble and it worked,” he said. “We had our way inside all night and I love it when our points are coming from inside.”
Boone (8-15) slowed the tempo in the second quarter but still faced a 36-23 deficit at the break. The Toreadors missed numerous first-half shots from within a few feet of the basket and sank only 3-of-13 at the charity stripe.
The Toreadors opened the second half with a 7-0 run to close the gap to 36-30, but Nevitt and Puente led a 13-0 Bluejay run that allowed Perry to enter the fourth stanza with a 55-37 lead.
The margin swelled to 20 points, at 63-43, early in the final frame, with the Jays waltzing to the win from there.
Boone junior forward Lane Losh had nine total points in the two regular season meetings between the two schools but stepped up Thursday for 19 points, many of which stopped Perry runs. Ethan Lewis had 11 points, Tanner Schminke seven, and Dresden Wilson six, while Trevor Van Pelt had four points, Daniel Anderson and Evan Appenzeller three each and Maclane Moran and Herrick two apiece.
Ivory added three steals to his 22 points, with Nevitt scoring 21 points and grabbing six rebounds while Puente had 17 points, 13 boards, two blocks and two steals. Rashon Ivory added 10 points, Solomon Pierce three and Ryan Rathje two, with Rashon Ivory making three steals while Alex Long had two thefts and seven assists.
Perry partisans packed an entire side of the Johnston gym, with the student section — or Jays Nest — at full volume throughout the contest.
“When we walked in the gym right before the start of the game and saw and head all those people it really fired us up,” Puente said. “We really appreciate the support of the community and our fans and want to keep winning for them.”