Morris outlasted Coal City 57-51 on Friday night and advanced to the semifinals of the Plano Christmas Classic.
Senior captain Brock Kukman put the final nails in the Coalers’ coffin when he canned a pair of free throws with eight ticks left on the clock. Kukman finished with 13 points off the bench and seven rebounds.
Trailing 49-48 with 3:28 to play, the Redskins (7-1) seized control. Jake Walker drilled a three-pointer on a kick out from Evan Bjelland, and Bjelland followed with a steal and layup at the 1:50 mark.
Nick Peters, a 6-8 senior, answered with two makes from the charity stripe with 1:33 remaining, but the Coalers’ aim went awry as Morris iced the game.
“We had the lead and we were in control,” Kukman explained. “They had to come and take it from us, and we weren’t going to let them have it. We remained calm, grabbed rebounds and hit our free throws.”
Morris raced out to a 17-6 lead and did not surrender the lead until the fourth quarter. Bjelland and Austin Patterson paced the Redskins in the first frame with seven and eight points, respectively. Patterson finished with a team-high 15 points and Bjelland added 13.
The Coalers cut the deficit to the slimmest of margins on three occasions in the second quarter, but were unable to gain the advantage. Kukman put back a rebound and added an old fashioned three-point play in the middle of the stanza as the Redskins took a 28-22 edge into the locker room at intermission.
Coal City knotted the score at 42-all when Brennen Shetina sank a long ball at the end of the third quarter. Peters gave the Coalers their first lead when he deposited an offensive rebound to open the final frame. The see-saw battle was on, but the Redskins shots were hitting. Morris connected on five of seven in the fourth quarter while the Coalers hit three of thirteen.
“Great players thrive in their role, and [Kukman] knows his job is to get garbage baskets, rebound for us and defend,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said. “And I thought he did all three really well tonight. Wow, I didn’t know he had 13 [points] but that’s a big ballgame for him.”
Peters led all scorers with 22 points while grabbing 13 rebounds. Shetina added 13 points and Lane Cowherd chipped in 11.