Rylan Murry came out of the locker room after West Branch’s 70-62 district semifinal basketball victory over Regina and had to scrunch down to get through a victory arch formed by the upheld arms of his jubilant, but considerably shorter, classmates.
But he stooped to conquer.
Murry’s 32 points led the Bears (17-5) to their third victory over the Regals this season and sent them into a district final Tuesday against West Liberty at Tiffin. Regina finished 12-11.
“Regina’s been playing really well, so we knew we’d have a challenge,” West Branch coach Stephen Bender said. “We’ve really done a nice job coming out of the half, and I thought we did (tonight). I was real pleased with our effort. I think Regina is as good as any team we’ll see.”
The Bears had lost four of their last five games but came out in the second half with a renewed determination exemplified by the hustle of junior reserve Mike Gould and the all-around play of the 6-foot-8 Murry.
“He always does that,” Murry said of Gould. “It seems like whenever he gets in we get a little spark of intensity. He’s great for that.”
“I just look at (my role) as working hard, getting the boys up, just sparking the mood,” Gould said.
The Bears finished the first half well, after Bender lit them up about midway through the second quarter for some sloppy play, and had a four-point lead at half. The Bears scored in nine of their 13 possessions of the third quarter to take a 48-35 lead.
“We just knew that we needed to pull away, otherwise they were going to get some good shots, and they could come back and get us,” Murry said. “We had that intensity in the second half.”
An alley-oop and two 3-point baskets by Murry got it started and bumped the lead to 10. He scored 16 of the Bears’ 20 points in the quarter as he took over the game. In addition to the threes he scored on drives through the zone or post-up moves.
“His threes, if they’re going in it really makes us tough to guard,” Bender said. “That opens a lot of other things up. When you have a lead you can be patient on offense.”
Regina coach Randy Larson noted Murry was much more than just a scorer Thursday night.
“He’s responsible for so much. Not only does he have 32 points, but every time he makes a play, he’s giving somebody who’s not necessarily a great offensive player a two-footer,” Larson said. “You give up seven or eight of those in addition to his 32, all of a sudden he’s responsible for 50 points.”
Gould’s hell-bent-for-the-bleachers save of a loose ball pumped up the crowd as well as his teammates.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, I was just like, ‘I gotta save the ball,'” Gould said. “I ran and dived after it. I hit a couple of my friends over there in the trash can. But we got the ball.”
Murry said Bender emphasized focusing on each possession, and as a result, the Bears were very efficient and scored in bunches.
“We were just patient on offense and we took care of the ball,” Gould said. “We didn’t throw the ball away. Usually we don’t do patience, but we did in this game and we got it.”
The Bears weren’t seriously threatened after that, but Regina put on a press and kept coming at them. The Regals scored 27 points in the fourth period while frantically trying to catch up, but the Bears had an answer every time.
West Branch shot 57 percent and made 10-of-12 free throws. Center Cody Brandt had15 points and guard Lucas Lamont added eight and Gould had seven.
West Branch’s defense focused on Regina’s talented sophomore, Drew Cook. Cook had trouble getting the ball at all, and when he did get it down low, he usually was surrounded by Murry and Brandt.
“We know that he can score. We started out and finished in a man, but most of the time, we were in 3-2 zone or a 2-3 zone,” Murry said. “That’s really our strength is a zone because we’ve got big guys who can clog up lanes. We focused on him more than anyone really.”
The referees let a fair amount of contact go under the basket and the Bears’ bulk was an advantage.
Cook scored 13, freshman guard Nathan Stenger had 16 and senior Kenyon Browning 14 to lead Regina. The Regals shot 27 3-pointers but made just six (.222). They shot 37 percent overall.
“I’m proud of the guys; they fought,” Larson said. The Regals came a long way this season after a rocky start and have a number of good young players who return.
WEST BRANCH (70) – Mason Hays 2-3 0-0 4, Lucas Lamont 3-7 0-0 8, Rylan Murry 11-18 8-8 32, Cole Cook 1-2 0-0 2, Cody Brandt 7-11 1-2 15, Branden Shortt 1-3 0-0 2, Mike Gould 3-5 1-2 7. Totals 28-49 10-12.
REGINA (62) – Johnny Ries 3-13 0-0 6, Nathan Stenger 5-12 4-5 16, Kenyon Browning 6-13 0-0 14, Drew Cook 5-10 2-2 13, Mark Ward 1-5 0-0 2, Mike Donovan 1-3 0-0 3, Matt Streb 0-2 0-0 0, Phil Arendt 2-4 0-0 4, Alex Balke 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 24-65 6-7.
3-point goals – Regina 6-27 (Ries 0-5, Stenger 2-7, Browning 2-6, Cook 1-2, Ward 0-1, Donovan 1-3, Streb 0-2, Balke 0-1), West Branch 4-11 (Hays 0-1, Lamont 2-6, Murry 2-3, Shortt 0-1). Total fouls – Regina 15, West Branch 12. Fouled out – Cole Cook (1:55).