Like a number of NCAA Division I basketball programs in the country, Merrill coach Kurt Soderberg was well aware of Stevens Point Area Senior High’s dynamic sophomore duo of Trevor Anderson and Sam Hauser.
Soderberg wasn’t counting on what SPASH’s Jon Barnes brought to the table Friday night in a battle of Wisconsin Valley Conference unbeatens.
Living up to his role as the sixth man to perfection, Barnes came off the bench and did what he does best — supply a pick-me-up for what might be ailing the Panthers.
The senior guard scored eight of his 11 points to ignite a 16-2 run over the opening 4 minutes of the second quarter and SPASH kept its foot on the accelerator from there in a 75-36 dismantling of the Bluejays.
“I know what my role is on the team, and that I’m out there to bring some energy and a boost,” Barnes said. “We want to bring the intensity and see if we can get them out of their game.”
Merrill was in the game for a grand total of 8 minutes, hanging around at 12-6 after one quarter.
Brandon Bartz and Chaz Mootz were causing the Panthers some issues by getting to the rim off dribble penetration against their man-to-man defense.
SPASH coach Scott Anderson then went to Plan B — a trapping press with length all over the court, and inserted Barnes on the floor and the SPASH Fieldhouse roof soon caved in on the Bluejays.
When halftime arrived, what had the makings of an interesting game had become a full-fledged mismatch in favor of the Panthers, who built a 34-14 advantage.
“I thought Barnes hit some big threes from the corner, and you can’t turn the ball over, I think we did it seven straight times, and give them easy baskets,” Soderberg said. “They’re a very good team, I think one 6-foot-9, 6-10 kid from being a state championship type team.
“I don’t know what the score was and I don’t care. We’re going to use this as a measuring stick and see where we are in February. Not one time was I unhappy with the effort or disappointed with my team.”
His counterpart on the SPASH bench would have hard time finding any issues as well.
After a bit of slow start against Merrill’s aggressive 2-3 zone, the Panthers were able to eventually shred it by getting the ball to Hauser and George Diekelman around the free throw line.
It didn’t hurt to have Barnes knocking down a couple deep jumpers to make them extend the zone.
“You like to see poise and patience (against the zone), but you also want to see a little attack mode, and I thought we did that better, especially in the second half,” SPASH coach Scott Anderson said.
If nothing else, SPASH demonstrated it’s far more than a two-man team.
Although Trevor Anderson and Hauser finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively, the biggest smile for coach Anderson was seeing the balance.
Also winding up in double figures were Diekelman with 12 points, along with Barnes. Aaron Nickel also came off the bench to score eight points and supply an inside presence.
“All in all, I’m very pleased with the guys,” coach Anderson said. “What I liked is a lot of kids scored and we had balance. How awesome is that and what a fun way to play.
“Jon Barnes was outstanding off the bench and I thought Aaron Nickel had his best game. It’s coming.”
Leading scorers: M, Nick Peterson 2, Brandon Bartz 4, Jake Anderson 3, Chaz Mootz 11, Alex Zettler 1, Austin Reissmann 8, Tucker Diethelm 5, Jacob Sabey 2. SPASH, Sean VanHelden 7, Trevor anderson 15, Sam Hauser 14, George Diekelman 12, Andrew Ruzek 2, Jon Barnes 11, Kirien Sprecher-Katzmarek 4, Aaron Nickel 8, TJ Schrank 2. 3-pointers: M, 0; SPASH, 7 (Anderson 2, Diekelman 2, Barnes 3). FT: M, 10-18; SPASH 10-16.
Records: SPASH 7-1, 4-0 WVC; Merrill 5-3, 2-1 WVC.