So much for a letdown.
Any worries head coach Matt Kruzich had about his Centerville boys basketball team coming back to earth Friday after an upset of the defending 3A state champions were gone right away in the Big Reds return to the South Central Conference. An 11-0 run to open the contest against Albia led to a very impressive 73-51 win over the Blue Demons.
The win extended Centerville’s winning streak to nine straight games and gave Kruzich more reasons to smile three nights after knocking off ninth-ranked Mount Pleasant on the road.
“We were really concerned about coming out and playing stagnant early on,” Kruzich said. “It was such an emotional thing to beat Mount Pleasant. I think our kids understand we can’t just show up and win. We’ve got to play hard every game.”
Payton Busch played a big role in the big start to the game on Friday for Centerville. The senior drained his first four shots, including one on a lay-up after stealing an inbound pass by the Blue Demons.
Centerville did that twice in the opening quarter, scoring the first 11 points in the opening three minutes. Busch finished the first quarter shooting 5-6 from the field with 12 of his team-best 17 points, matching the Blue Demons’ himself in the opening eight minutes.
“We wanted to jump out big so we wouldn’t have that let down,” Busch said. “Once they started falling, everyone started following suit. Everyone really shot the ball well.”
Albia never got closer then nine points the entire night despite a surprising sharp-shooting performance by sophomore Ryan Sarver. Entering the game having scored 36 points total this season, Sarver hit nine of 11 field goals and scored a game-high 22 points.
“Without Ryan shooting like that, we’d have been in a world of hurt,” Albia head coach Kevin Archer said. “I thought we did a pretty good job in transition. If we did one thing well, I thought that was it.”
But even as Sarver began to heat up off the bench through the midpoint of the first half, Centerville continued to have an answer. The Big Reds hit 52 percent from the field while giving up just nine points combined to Tanner Kellogg and Matt Baker, the Blue Demons top two scorers.
“Those are two great players. You’re not going to hold those guys down like that very often,” Kruzich said.”
Busch’s ability to strike from the perimeter early helped extend Albia’s defense out away from the paint. That allowed Centerville’s 6-8 post presence Logan Dabney to begin to take over in the paint.
Dabney added to a balanced effort for the Big Reds, scoring a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. The senior talked about the balance of his team helping make life easier on the inside.
“Teams like to triple team me and if I didn’t have my guards, it’d be a lot harder to play down there,” Dabney said. “When they can start attracting defenders out to the perimeter, it gives me a chance to get those rebounds and get more open looks.”
Centerville kept extending their lead throughout the night, opening up a 22-point lead in the final minute of the opening half before settling on a 40-21 edge at the break. Albia tried to rally back, getting as close as 15 points in third quarter, before the Big Reds opened the fourth quarter with seven straight points to put the game away.
“I think we came out with confidence. We really felt like we could win,” Archer said. “We just did some really silly things. We were in the wrong place at the wrong times and you just can’t do that against a team like Centerville.”
Four players scored in double-figures for the Big Reds, who had 72 hours to soak in a gratifying win over a Mount Pleasant team that ended Centerville’s season in the substate finals last year. It wasn’t just Kruzich that wondered how the Big Reds would handle the aftermath of that kind of win on Friday.
“We were all kind of worried about that,” Dabney said. “I don’t think we knew how we’d react as a team until the game got underway.”
“Beating a top ten team is a feeling you don’t get that often, but you just have to treat everyone as a top-ten team,” Busch added
Centerville hasn’t lost since a season-opening 69-55 setback at Fort Madison on Nov. 26. The Big Reds have confidence, a 5-0 record atop the SCC and an eye toward improving as the Big Reds next host Fairfield on Tuesday.
“We’re just having fun right now. I think that’s what you see from every successful team,” Dabney said. “We love each other. We just work as a team and that’s what makes us fun.”
After seeing their own four-game win streak stopped on Friday, Albia (6-4, 2-2) will try to bounce back today as the Blue Demons head to Nodaway Valley, the top-ranked team in Class 2A.
So much for a letdown.
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