ALBIA — In the past two seasons are any indication, don't expect Blake Chance and Brayden Messamaker to have nights like Monday night.
The top two scorers each of the past two years for the Albia boys basketball team were held to just three points apiece with just one made field goal combined to average over eight makes a game last season. The season-opening struggle from the seniors were a big part of the story of a 69-56 loss to Grand View Christian in a battle of teams hoping to end the season playing in the boys state basketball tournament.
"We just were not very good on offense," Albia boys basketball coach Dustin Kirkland said. "We missed a lot of open shots. I'd like to think that's just part of playing our first game, but we shot the ball really well in our Hall of Pride scrimmage last week against Central Decatur.
"It just seemed like we couldn't knock down shots. I don't think that's going to happen most nights. This was just kind of a perfect storm where we didn't hit a lot of shots and didn't play a lot of defense in spurts. It made for a long night."
While two of Albia's top shooters struggled from the field, Manny Hammonds lit up the scoreboard on the other end. After averaging 12.8 points per game last season for the Thunder, Hammonds opened his junior season going off for 32 points against the Blue Demons including the final 10 Grand View Christian points of the third quarter with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer over three Albia defenders sending Grand View Christian to the fourth with a 51-42 advantage.
"We couldn't stop Hammonds. Rather it was a pull-up jumper, a 3-pointer or even a dribble-drive," Kirkland said. "We couldn't simulate his speed in practice, apparently. We couldn't get where we needed to be against him."
While Hammonds had everyone's full attention by the end of the game, Grand View Christian (1-0) had the player that drew everyone's attention before the game winning the opening tip. Daniel Tobiloba, a 6-11 sophomore, played through early foul trouble collecting 21 rebounds against the Blue Demons while blocking five shots in the first half, making a huge impact despite scoring just four points.
"He just does so many other things that you don't think about," Kirkland said of Tobiloba. "He can totally throw off your offense. You're not going to dribble inside there. We worked all week in practice on the pull-up dribble and not challenging him at the rim."
Drew Chance had the tough assignment, however, of dealing with Tobiloba in the post. Despite giving up nine inches to the fellow sophomore, Chance finished with a career night leading Albia with a 26-point, 10-rebound double-double that kept the Blue Demons (0-1) in the game.
"We've been preparing for (Tobiloba). One of our coaches was using swimming pool noodles for arms to match his size," Chance said. "It's still something a lot different in person. He might be the best defender I go up against this season just because of his size.
"I got a lot of great looks from my teammates. I've been working a lot on my jumper during the offseason. The 15-footer was really working for me, which was big because the shots in close I normally put up were getting set back into my face."
The play of Chance and Trey Griffin, who matched Hammonds by scoring Albia's first seven points including a game-tying four-point play, helped the Blue Demons reel off 12 unanswered points to build an early 15-7 lead. Nathaniel Wynn scored on a breakaway lay-up to open the second quarter before Drew Chance drilled a jumper, putting Albia up 23-15.
"I wasn't expecting that from (Drew) Chance and Griffin," Grand View Christian head coach Dave Stubbs said. "Albia is a great team. They're as well coaches as any team we'll face. When things aren't going your way, you have to change up your game plan."
The guard play of the Thunder proved to be the difference as Josh Baucum stepped up to add 17 points, including the first five points of the second half as Grand View Christian opened a 37-31 lead. Albia stayed within striking distance deep into the second half, trailing 62-54 with under two minutes left after a 3-point play by Griffin, before a final 7-0 run capped by a 3-point play from Baucum sealed the season-opening win.
Neither team will have to wait long to test themselves in their respective second games. Grand View Christian heads west down Highway 34 to face Class 4A state tournament hopeful Ottumwa in the season-opener for the Bulldogs on Tuesday night at Evans Middle School Gymnasium while Albia hits the road for the first time this season traveling to Pella Christian.
"We've got some tougher teams we're going to see this season, including Pella Christian," Drew Chance said. "We're going to have to come play and play a lot better. I think, for our conference championship hopes and hopes of playing at state, we've got to test ourselves against tough teams. We know we're a tough team. This is going to be a great learning experience."