There is an old saying among sportswriters: “That is why they play the game.”
If the Perry boys basketball team has their way, the cliche will be said repeatedly across the state Tuesday evening.
Chariton (23-1) played one more game than Pella (22-1) this season, apparently enough of an edge to earn the top seed in the Class 3A State Tournament, despite the Dutch being the top-ranked team in the AP rankings.
As a result, Perry (15-9) has drawn Pella (22-1) for Tuesday’s fourth quarterfinal, which will tip at 8:15 p.m. following the 6:35 p.m. tilt between third-seed Spirit Lake (21-3) and six-seed Cedar Rapids Xavier (16-8) at 6:35 p.m. The winners will meet at 8:15 p.m. Thursday.
Early 3A games Tuesday include fourth-seed MOC-Floyd Valley (21-3) facing five-seed Dubuque Wahlert (19-5) at 2 p.m. while top-seed Chariton (23-1) plays eight-seed Solon (10-14) at 3:45 p.m. The two victors will meet at 6:35 p.m. Thursday.
Pella, Perry head coach Ned Menke said, deserves the plaudits they have received.
“They are extremely athletic and really come after you,” he said. “They like to get after teams early, so we are going to have to avoid something like a 10-2 run or a big first quarter that puts us in a big hole early — we have to have a quick start.”
“They will come at us with a full-court, run-and-jump trapping style, which can make things fall apart really fast if you’re not careful,” Menke added. “If we can avoid getting in trouble that way and make them come back and play defense, we will have our best shot.”
The teams match up very well both statistically and in size. Pella scores 75.2 points per game and Perry 71.5, but the Dutch enjoy an average victory margin of 22.5 ppg while the Jays average margin has been 6.3 ppg.
As befitting their fast starts, the Dutch have a 97-point edge in total first-half points over the Bluejays, but Perry owns a 69-point second-half advantage, which does not include 15 points the Jays have scored in two overtime games.
Given the physical nature of the two teams, Menke said he hoped the whistles will not be a factor.
“Both teams like to play a physical brand of basketball, and hopefully the players will be the ones who decide the game,” Menke said. “There is going to be a fair amount of banging, and you are going to see some players on the floor — that’s just the way both teams play, and I hope it’s how the game turns out.”
What might become an epic battle in paint could be looming. Pella’s Ryan Van Wyk, a 6-5 junior, will be paired with 6-4 Perry junior Janier Puente under the rim. Van Wyk is seventh in total rebounds (225) and Puente 10th (205) but both have been animals on the offensive glass. Van Wyk leads 3A in offensive boards with 104, with 6-10 Spirit Lake senior Ryan Kriener second with 102 while Puente is third with 92.
Van Wyk averages 14.3 points per game and Puente 11.0, with Puente also having made 39 steals.
“Janier will need to play smart,” Menke said. “They are probably going to try and attack him and get him off the court, so he will need to balance playing smart while staying aggressive.”
Pella senior forward Will Warner (6-3) is an excellent all-around player, averaging 13.5 ppg while collecting 117 rebounds, dishing out 102 assists and making 35 steals. Fellow senior forward Grant Judkins (6-3) is averaging 7.5 ppg and has 66 rebounds and 48 assists.
Senior guard Payson Vande Lune (6-2) has hit 33 3-pointers and made 44 assists while scoring 10.4 ppg, with junior guard Nick Finney (6-1) making 97 assists and 34 steals while clearing 73 rebounds and scoring six points per outing.
The high number of lopsided wins has allowed Pella to give their bench players plenty of playing time. Donovan Holterhaus (6-5) averages 6.6 ppg, with Noah Clayberg (5-1) at 4.9 ppg as part of what has, at times, been an eight- or nine-man rotation.
For Perry, senior all-state guard Shammond Ivory (6-3) has drained 41 treys, grabbed 82 rebounds and made 80 assists while scoring 22.4 ppg. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer, entering the game with 1,690 points. He scored 505 points as a junior and has 493 this year.
“The stage will not be too bright for Shammond,” Menke said. “In my opinion, he will be the best player on the floor. I happen to think he is the best guard in the state, too, and I am happy he will have a chance for a lot of people to see what he can do.”
Senior Ryan Rathje (6-6) has scored 10.4 ppg while sinking 53 3-pointers, snaring 117 rebounds and blocking 40 shots. He is joined by 6-4 junior Kyle Nevitt, who averages 15.5 ppg and has made 34 treys while clearing 123 boards and making 37 thefts.
“Ryan has great range and when he is on, he can really fill it up,” Menke said. “He has the green light to put it up whenever he wants, and as we saw in the substate final, he is not afraid to take, and make, the big shot.”
Nevitt, Menke said, “really causes other teams match-up problems. You have a 6-4 guy who can handle the ball and shoot it well, so he is a real inside-outside threat. Add to it that, like Shammond, he is left-handed, and that can be trouble.”
Ivory’s younger brother, Rashon, is a 5-10 sophomore averaging 6.5 ppg with 71 assists to his credit.
“Rashon is a dynamic defensive player on the perimeter and offensively is really starting to shoot the ball well,” Menke said. “He is also very fast with the ball in transition — he is probably one of the fastest players you will find with the ball in the open court.”
Senior Alex Long has played a critical role off the Bluejay bench. While averaging 2.9 points per game, Long has a team-best 97 assists.
“Alex has really taken to his role and knows what it is we need from him,” Menke said. “There was one game this year where he did not score but had 10 assists. That is hard to do, and shows you how unselfish a player he has been in setting things up for us.”
Menke can also turn to 6-4 senior Solomon Pierce and 6-4 sophomore Conner Nielsen off the bench. Both average three points per game and played valuable roles throughout the season.
“Those guys give us a lot of flexibility and allow us to make adjustments when we need to,” the coach said. “You don’t want a huge drop-off when you go to your reserves, and there has not been.”
Perry’s record may be 15-9, but could just as easily be 20-4 or better, Menke said.
“It was not until later in the season that what we’d been telling the boys all year finally started to sink in,” he explained. “We began playing as a team offensively and defensively. Our energy has been through the roof, and we are going to need that Tuesday.”
Menke said his team has been enjoying the excitement of qualifying for the state tourney but has mixed a serious attitude in practices with a loose approach off the court.
“I like where we are at mentally,” he said. “The guys know they face a tough challenge, but they are not scared and know the pressure is on Pella, not us. I am sure we will have a huge and loud crowd down there, and you would have to believe the neutral fans will all be pulling for us.”
“Pella is a fantastic team and are by far the best team we will have seen, but we are not the team now that we were even a month ago,” Menke said. “If we play defense like we have been, we can keep them under their average and if that happens, we might just pull the upset.”
PELLA (22-1) Off. avg: 75.2. Def. avg: 52.7
10-11 Nick Finney 6-1 Jr. 6.0 ppg 73 reb 97 asts 34 steals
12-13 Payson Vande Lune 6-2 Sr. 10.4 ppg 33 3’s 44 asts
20-21 Will Warner 6-3 Sr. 13.5 ppg 117 reb 102 asts 35 steals
22-23 Ryan Van Wyk 6-5 Jr. 14.3 ppg 225 reb (104 off. reb, 1st in 3A)
32-33 Grant Judkins 6-3 Sr. 7.5 ppg 66 reb 48 asts
Coach: Mark Core, 337-98 in 21 years at Pella; 464-212 30 yrs overall.
Dutch won Little Hawkeye Conference
Last trip to state: 2015.
Trek to the Well: Beat Saydel, 79-23; Bondurant-Farrar, 62-50; Ballard, 81-56.
FYI: Pella is seeking to become eighth different school to win football/basketball state titles in same school year.
PERRY (15-9) Off. avg: 71.5. Def. avg: 65.3.
10-11 Rashon Ivory 5-10 So. 6.5 ppg 71 asts
22-23 Shammond Ivory 6-3 Sr. 22.4 ppg 41 3’s 82 rebs 80 asts 1,690 career pts.
24-25 Janier Puente 6-4 Jr. 11.0 ppg 205 reb (92 off. reb, 3rd in 3A), 39 steals
32-33 Ryan Rathje 6-6 Sr. 10.4 ppg 53 3’s 117 reb 40 blocks
34-35 Kyle Nevitt 6-4 Jr. 15.5 ppg 34 3’s 123 reb 37 steals
Coach: Ned Menke, 81-100, 8th year, all at Perry. Menke is the 2015-16 Character Counts Coach of the Year.
The Bluejays were third in the Raccoon River Conference.
Last trip to State: 1988 2A State Champions.
Trek to the Well: Beat DC-G, 57-50; Boone, 75-57; No. 6 Glenwood, 73-71 (OT).
FYI: Assistant coach Jim Richmond was at Central Dallas (Minburn) for five years before coming to Perry in 1990. Now in his 31st year, this is his first trip to the state tournament.
The IHSAA provided some information for this report.