For nearly two months, Rock Creek boys coach Rob Frederick has been in search of the same type of intensity he saw from his youthful squad prior to the Christmas Break.
Saturday night he finally got it from the Mustangs just when some had some doubts about their chances against a red-hot opponent in the playoffs.
Savanna came into the district finals as a 20-win squad and winners of 12 straight contests but proved to be no match for a Rock Creek team that was playing shorthanded but came out with the most intensity it had shown in weeks.
The end result was an impressive 57-40 victory for the Mustangs, who move on to a Class 2A Regional winner’s bracket meeting with Rattan at 8 p.m. Thursday in Tishomingo.
“I thought this was the best we have played since pre-Christmas,” Frederick commented afterward. “We had not been playing up to our potential but we came out with great intensity tonight (Saturday).
“A few people had questioned our chances facing a red-hot team (Savanna) but I think that got us focused much more than we had been. The first half we came out and played about as well as we can, especially defensively.”
After spotting the Dawgs a quick 2-0 lead, Rock Creek immediately showed its mettle with an aggressive style that has been missing much of the last few weeks. The Mustangs virtually dominated both the offensive and defensive glass as well as got their transition attack in gear for several point blank scoring chances.
A hot start from three-point range didn’t hurt either as the hosts got two treys apiece from Brock Allen and Christian McGowan in the game’s opening 11 minutes as Rock Creek built a 16-point bulge.
The Mustangs also got a tremendous effort from senior Dalton Dill, who got the start in place of an injured Shacona Vandenburg, and was a terror on the boards during the early surge.
Savanna’s only scoring came from Chasetan Bolding, including just one field goal against a stingy Rock Creek defense, as the Mustangs built the lead to 23-9 midway through the second stanza with a well-balanced arsenal.
Dill’s offensive rebound and beautiful assist to Allen in the waning seconds extended the advantage to 30-14 at intermission.
“We talked beforehand that the key to the game was going to be to keep them out of the paint, not allowing second chance points and take care of the basketball,” Frederick added. “We did a pretty good job on that most of night. Dalton Dill really stepped up and played well for us in the paint.”
The lead ballooned to 21 points midway through the third frame following treys by Allen and McGowan before Savanna finally found a spark with three-point sharpshooter Richie Williams catching fire.
Williams connected for three bombs in the final minutes of the period to cut the margin to 41-25.
Savanna continued the run with its pressure, forcing Rock Creek into seven turnovers in the opening four minutes of the final stanza, mostly coming after the Mustangs’ junior point guard Sam Roper fouled out.
Rock Creek’s offense also became lethargic after spreading the floor and the Dawgs got as close as 45-37 with 2:52 remaining. A thunderous dunk from Dill stemmed the tide a bit and Darian James added back-to-back baskets in transition that pushed the lead back well into double figures as the Mustangs closed it out with a 12-3 run.
“We kind of got out of our attack mode mentality when spread the floor there in the fourth quarter,” Frederick commented. “It hurt us when Sam (Roper) fouled out and we didn’t take care of the ball as well, but we finally snapped out of it. I thought we were able to rotate a lot more guys than they could in the first half and kept us fresher down the stretch.
“Hopefully we show up and play with the same mindset on Thursday that we showed tonight.”
James totaled 18 points, including 10 of 12 from the charity stripe, to lead the way for Rock Creek, which improved to 20-5.
Allen added 14 with McGowan chipped in 10 as both hit three treys. Karson Dry finished with six as Dill and Davis Rogers posted five apiece.
Williams topped Savanna with 15 points, all coming on second half three-pointers.
Contact Kevin Farr at 580-634-2161 or [email protected]