When Unity gets out in transition there is almost no team who can keep up with the boys. They used that advantage twice last week to get the best of their opponents.
With those wins Unity claimed the top spot in the Okaw Valley Conference as their sole possession. Tough defense and quick offense downed Monticello and Meridian and kept the Rockets streaking toward the end of the season.
“Our posts and forwards can run faster than [opponents],” Unity coach Bill Ipsen said “Teams will make runs at us, but we step up and make stops ... When we put together fast offense with strong defense we really have something.”
Rematch to Rockets
Unity topped Monticello for the second time in three days on Tuesday. The Rockets did not squander an early lead and ran away with an 81-61 win.
As in their match-up in the OVC Tournament championship game, Unity started the game on a 12-4 run. Unlike the championship, the Rockets never let Monticello back in the game.
The Sages were frustrated by Unity’s defense and shot just 30 percent from the field. The strong defense allowed the Rockets to carry a 10-point advantage into halftime, 36-26.
“We made some defensive adjustments from the last game,” Ipsen said. “We talked about how well (Monticello) did in the paint in our first game. We thought it was important to get help in the middle, and we tried to get Aaron (Larson) to lay off and help in the middle.”
A big part of Unity’s defensive advantage was center Aaron Larson. The Rockets’ big man held Monticello to just 28 points in the paint and blocked eight of their shots.
Larson’s great performance was rounded out with a double-double. He led everyone in scoring with 19 points and picked up 11 rebounds in the win.
Eleven of Larson’s points came in the third quarter as he helped the Rockets extend their lead to 14 points before the fourth quarter. But Larson was not the only Unity player scoring on Tuesday.
Every Unity starter reached double digits in scoring. Taylor Black put up 15 points, Alex Thorson and Matt Restad each scored 14, and Austin Fender had 10 points. Ipsen said it was a great win.
“We talked about getting stops and playing defense,” Ipsen said. “We did a pretty good job. At the beginning of the third we were kind of trading baskets, but we locked down on defense. I thought we made some hustle plays. We had some nice baskets, and I think that helped our scoring.”
Rockets’ speed knocks off Hawks
Unity took the pole position in the battle for the OVC title Friday night by beating Macon Meridian 75-63 at home.
Meridian came into Friday’s match-up tied with the Rockets atop the OVC standings. Unity ensured they alone would hold the top spot after the encounter by going on a 9-0 run in the first two minutes of the game. Unity dictated the pace of play and kept the visitors at arm’s length for the whole game.
“We pushed the ball and when we pushed the ball they couldn’t keep up with our speed. That’s the way we love to play,” Thorson said.
Thorson was the catalyst for Unity’s superb offense on Friday. He was one of four Rockets who scored in double figures, picking up 12 points. He added four steals in the win.
The most impressive Unity player on Friday was Restad, however. The junior led all scorers with 24 points, including five threes.
“When he gets in the zone and gets locked in on offense he can shoot with the best of them. He did a good job of picking his spots and hitting his shots,” Ipsen said about Restad’s effort.
He went on to praise his team for their defense, which kept the OVC’s top scoring team at bay for the whole game.
“Giving up 18 points in the first quarter is a lot, but I thought we did much better in the second quarter,” Ipsen said. “We did a good job throughout the game when we needed stops. They made some runs at us, but we stepped up.”
After Unity’s opening run, Meridian was never able to mount a significant run to counter. Unity finished the first quarter ahead 28-18 and maintained the 10-point advantage to halftime, 40-30.
A slow start to the second half by Unity allowed the Hawks to get as close as five points, 43-38, with four minutes gone in the third period. Shots started to fall again for Unity shortly after and the 10-point cushion was reestablished.
Black finished the game with 15 points, and Larson put up another double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) against the Hawks. Neither was the main focus of the Rockets’ offense, as they have been in previous games. Offense flowed freely among all of Unity’s players as they sought the top spot in the conference.
The win was Unity’s eighth in a row and 20th of the season — marking the Rockets’ first 20-win season since 2008-09. The team must win their final two conference games to clinch a second consecutive OVC title. Ipsen expressed caution at the idea of a repeat.
“We have to take it one at a time. This game was big, but it means nothing if we lose the next two,” he said.
Thorson was a bit bolder when asked if he thought the team could win the conference and perhaps more.
“I know we’re capable,” he said with a wide smile.