NEENAH — Jonah Matulle and Joe Jung had to play the waiting game last season.
Neither received much playing time on a talent-packed Neenah team, and the two combined for an average of 7.2 points per game.
Patience has paid off for the two.
Both have been thrust into major roles this season, and the two are delivering.
Matulle scored 22 points and Jung added 17 to lift a new-look Rockets team to an impressive 62-48 win over Appleton West on Friday in the Fox Valley Association boys’ basketball opener for both teams at Ron Einerson Fieldhouse.
Neenah (1-1 overall) graduated its top five scorers from last year’s 20-5 team and had to replace a whopping 50 points per game produced by the likes of dominant big man Matt Heldt and perimeter sharpshooter Trevor Entwisle.
Matulle, a smooth 6-foot-4 senior, and Jung, an athletic 6-1 junior, have quickly stepped in and filled the scoring void for new coach Lee Rabas. Matulle scored a team-high 24 points in Neenah’s season-opener, and followed it up with another highly productive performance against the Terrors.
“The guys on the team last year really helped us become who we are now,” said Matulle. “When you play with good players, they make you play well.”
It was the second straight double-digit scoring night for Jung, a complete player who consistently hurt the Terrors with his ability to get to the rim.
“I’ve known Joe since he was a little guy,” said Rabas. “He used to come to my camps when I was at Lawrence and (UW) Fox Valley. So I know he can play. He’s an athlete and competitor, and I have high expectations.”
Payton Mericle, another player who contributed off the bench for the Rockets last season, added eight points for Neenah, which rebounded from a tough 67-66 overtime loss to Bay Port.
“We could have gone one of two ways after Tuesday night,” said Rabas. “We could have come out and not played hard and let things snowball. But we did the opposite. We built on Tuesday. We let that game slip away from us during a stretch in the second half and tonight we didn’t let it get away from us. We made plays.”
With Matulle drilling a pair of 3-pointers and scoring on a slick reverse lay-up, Neenah jumped out to early leads of 9-2 and 14-4 and built a 30-20 halftime advantage.
Appleton West scored six of the first eight points in the second half to cut Neenah’s lead to 32-26, but the Rockets retaliated with six straight points from the foul line and the Terrors moved no closer the rest of the way.
“There’s a lot of things we have to clean up, but we played hard and competed,” said Rabas. “We’re going to give up size all year long and that means we have to play a certain way. The kids are listening and buying in.”
West, ranked 10th among Division 1 teams in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s preseason rankings, fell to 1-1.
“I thought we were outexecuted,” said West coach Brennan Hussey. “We didn’t defend well and Neenah took full advantage by using their screens properly and getting to the line and converting. And we didn’t finish well. Neenah is solid. They’re going to take advantage of what you give them and they took that and then some.”
Joey Reader, a 6-6 junior, topped the Terrors with 17 points, while 6-7 Jack Flynn added 12.
“We knew we had to stop their big guy, Flynn,” said Matulle. “We knew they were tall and long, and that we had to box out. We were scrappy and we got as many boards as we needed. I thought our bench did a great job tonight.”
Appleton West……20 28 — 48
Neenah……30 32 — 62
Appleton West: Mahoney 4, Smith 2, Majors 3, Thomas 7, Reader 17, Pitz 3, Flynn 12. Totals 17 12-20 48. Three-pointers: Reader, Pitz. Fouls: 27. Fouled out: Thomas, Smith.
Neenah: J. Mericle 5, Szczepaniak 4, P. Mericle 8, Prosser 4, Matulle 22, Mascal 2, Jung 17. Totals 19 22-30 62. Three-pointers: Matulle 2. Fouls: 14.
Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @twfroberg