DES MOINES - West Marshall's success at both ends of the floor is predicated on the transition game. But when the Trojans have to slow it down and run an offense, they are confident in their half-court game and can usually rely on a strong presence inside the paint.
But when third-ranked West Fork finally realized the Trojans' horses were faster than they had initially expected, the Warhawks shut down their transition and never really allowed West Marshall to get anything going inside.
In fact, West Fork's posts were simply better, holding West Marshall's two primary post scorers to a combined 12 points. The Trojans also managed just 54 points in the game despite a promising start that began with West Marshall getting easy looks off its fast break.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
West Marshall senior Elijah Streeter, right, takes the ball to the rim against West Fork’s Hunter Myers on Tuesday during the Trojans’ 71-54 loss in the opening round of the Class 2A Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
"The (Duncan) Ferch kid is deceptively quick. I had heard that and saw him play some, but I just think the guys didn't think they would be that fast," said West Fork coach Frank Schnoes. "They have quick guards, too, and I don't think our guys thought they would get away from us as fast as they did. When we found out that they could score quickly, we emphasized at the quarter break that we had to get back on defense."
From the second quarter on, the Trojans' transition game was essentially non-existent. The problem then became the half-court offense.
West Marshall got an outside game going with Reggie Gradwell and Ferch scored right around his usual 16 points per game average.
But West Fork made sure every shot the Trojans took was contested and every bucket they got was earned. The Warhawks didn't leave much room for Trenton Keislar or Matt Van Metre to roam inside the lane, either.
"We always like to run whenever we get the opportunity. That is our game," said West Marshall coach Paul deNeui. "But we try to adjust to what teams let us do. (Early in the first quarter), they were allowing us to run. So we took advantage, but then they made adjustments and made some shots, and it's a little harder to run when the other team makes shots."
That was the other issue. West Fork just didn't miss many shots.
West Marshall (20-5) trailed by just one after the first quarter and went into halftime down just four. The Warhawks though came out on fire in the third. Sam Amsbaugh showed why he is regarded as one of the best players in Class 2A by scoring a game-high 26 points, but the West Fork senior got help early in the second half as Spencer Halloran and Austin Neff both buried 3-pointers to push the Warhawk advantage to 10.
Amsbaugh made 10-of-14 from the floor in the game, and West Fork connected on 60 percent of its shots in all. The Warhawks also made 75 percent of their attempts in the final two quarters to outscore the Trojans 43-30.
"We knew they would come out and run right away, so getting back on defense was very important today," said Halloran, who finished with 10 points. "We had to do that to win because we knew our half-court defense was as good as it could be.
"We executed our offense really well, so if we held them down a little bit, we were confident in our ability to win."
The Trojans were still in the game after three quarters as they trailed by just seven. That is when West Fork exploited one of West Marshall's strengths all season. The Warhawks lobbed the ball into the paint and took advantage of the Trojans' inability to bring back-side help.
"They hit a few outside shots and forced us to come out and guard them," said deNeui. "We knew they would play well inside, and when those outside shots started to fall, it was much tougher to double team them in the post. They are big and tall down there, and we knew that would present a challenge."
Six-foot-6 center Evan Sprung was the biggest beneficiary inside the lane. He scored eight of his 13 points in the final frame and most of those opportunities came against single coverage.
The Trojans were outscored 40-28 inside the lane for the game and added 19 points off West Marshall's 13 turnovers.
"They started to get back on defense quicker. They noticed we wanted to get out and run and managed to slow us down," said Ferch, who had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists in his final high school basketball game. "Their big guys are just good. They are tough to guard down low and they got shooters, too. It was tough to help off them because they can bury you from outside, as well."
While the Trojans put up a good fight against the defending 2A state runner-ups, they just got beat at their own game in the final three quarters. West Fork put the game away with a 25-point fourth quarter.
"They did a good job of taking us out of our gameplan," said deNeui. "You have to give them credit. Our fastbreak worked for a while, but they adjusted and slowed us back down.
"They actually controlled the boards for a while and when we don't get too many defensive rebounds, we can't run. When they score, it definitely slows us down, too."