PRINCETON — Jason Marquis knew how Rockford Christian could “score in bunches,” but it was his Bureau Valley Storm who lit up the scoreboard in the first half of Tuesday’s Princeton 2A regional semifinal at Prouty Gym.
The Storm raced out to a 44-28 first half advantage and led by as much as 20 points early in the third quarter. The Lions picked up their pace in the second half, outscoring the Storm, 37-29, but fell well short as the Storm advanced with a 74-65 victory to Friday’s championship game against Hall.
Marquis praised his defense for slowing the Lions down.
“It was a great battle, fun atmosphere. (It’s) postseason, advance and survive,” Marquis said. “Thought we played a tremendous first half. Disciplined second quarter, only giving up nine points to a great team. I don’t know how many times they’ve scored in the 80s, but a bunch. To give up nine points in a quarter shows great discipline.”
Bureau Valley (18-10) got a big lift from big man Ben Shipp, who scored 13 of his night’s 17 points in the first half, eight in a 12-1 Storm run in the second quarter to net a 42-24 lead.
Shipp has been slowly, but surely, rounding into shape from an ankle injury he sustained during warm-ups of the first game of the season, and displayed the promise he showed, Marquis said.
“Shippy played tremendously well and great for him. That’s the way Shippy looked all summer,” Marquis said. “People wonder how we stumbled around for a little while. Shippy missed what, 10-11 games? For a big kid like that, I think he got a little bit out of shape. He couldn’t do anything for 3 and 1/2 weeks.
“I think now you’re starting to see a little pep in his step, getting a little quicker, getting a few extra rebounds. And that was the Shippy we saw over the summer and preseason, a beastly kid, for a big kid, has an incredibly soft offensive game. Happy for him.”
Shipp, who acknowledged he still feels the effects of the injury, was happy to help out, knocking down 6-7 shots from the field in the first half, including a 3-pointer.
“I was just feeling good. They were playing off me so I took my shots,” he said.
An acrobatic tip-in at the buzzer by senior Kale Barnett put the Storm up by 16 at the half at 44-28.
“We just had to come out with energy and play how we knew we could play,” Shipp said. “We’ve been playing tight and scared. We just put the pedal to the metal first half, up by 20, I think.”
When asked the difference in the Storm’s sense of urgency Tuesday compared to other recent games, Shipp said, “It’s postseason, you gotta go. You don’t stay in the postseason (if you don’t).”
The Storm scored 12 points in the third quarter, all on the strength of 3-point shots, two by Nate Paup (17 points) and one each by Noah Johnson and Tyler Gustafson, to hold a 56-41 lead at quarter’s end.
The Lions (15-13) made things a little interesting in the fourth quarter, using a 10-0 run to get as close as 62-56 with 2 1/2 minutes left to play. Junior Marcus Hill led the Lions’ charge, scoring half of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter.
“We had to buckle down and take care of the ball. That number zero (Hill), you can’t really stop him. He was just hitting shots,” Shipp said. “What really got ’em back in the game was our turnovers. They were running and jumping on us, forced a lot of turnovers and brought them back.”
The Storm made 13-21 free throws in the fourth quarter to hang on. Kale Barnett, who led the Storm with 20 points, uncharacteristically missed four out of six free throw attempts before hitting a pair to seal the 74-65 Storm victory.
Next up the Storm set their sights on Bureau County and Three Rivers rival Hall. The Storm bedeviled Hall 67-52 in their latest meeting on Feb. 8 at the Storm Cellar, leaving the rivals with a split of their two conference games this year. Hall won the first meeting Jan. 11, 54-42 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Trez Rybarczyk.
"This is one of their goals. Win this game and get to Friday. We’re excited to take a step forward and get ready for Friday," Marquis said. “They’ll play hard. They’re a physical bunch of kids who are going to compete. I’m expecting it to be a loud atmosphere that kids all around the world would love to play in.”
“Same thing as the first two games. They’re a 3-point shooting team. Got to make them drive on you or else they shoot lights out,” Shipp said.