PEKIN — Morton boys basketball coach Matt Franks said he enjoys his team flying under the radar.
But that is probably a thing of the past for the Potters, who entered the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament with a 9-4 record.
They may have ruined any chances to be a surprise team once the calendar year turns. Morton opened the tournament with dominating victories over Plainfield East and Richwoods to become the only local team to reach the tournament’s semifinals before a 48-32 loss to Normal West on Thursday night.
“I think, defensively, we really found our groove,” Franks said. “I think we’ve been locked in and playing really, really well and it’s been a springboard to the other end.”
Morton gave up an average of 38.7 points per game in its first three games of the tournament. The Potters held Plainfield East to 30.8 percent shooting and Richwoods to 16.7.
The Potters held 6-foot-9 Normal West junior Francis Okoro — a Division I recruit with 32 offers so far — to nine shots and 10 points, but the Wildcats made 10-of-18 3-point shots.
“Even (against Normal West), I thought we played good defense on their big man,” Franks said. “But they made some shots we didn’t expect them to.”
“Overall, we’ve been happy with the way we played, but this tournament shows how much work we have to do,” junior guard Jarrett Crider said. “We have to work harder and play better against good teams like this, especially when you look at getting ready for the postseason.”
The postseason could mean seeing Richwoods again, and the Potters dominated that quarterfinal match against the tournament’s second seed. They held the Knights without a field goal for more than the 11 minutes to start the game.
That defense has been consistently strong this season.
“Our defense has done really well,” Crider said. “That’s probably where we have played the best overall this year. That Richwoods game was one of our best games, especially on defense. We came out with a lot of energy from everybody. We had a couple steals right away and just kept up the energy.”
Richwoods came into the tournament off a win at Metamora, a team that beat Morton by 15 points Dec. 2.
“We may have surprised some people, especially with the Richwoods game,” said Crider, who scored 44 points in the first two games of the tournament. “They’re a lot bigger than us and a very good team, but we played one of our best games.
“But really, this year, anybody seems to be able to be able to beat anybody on any given night. That’s why you always need to be looking for ways to get better.”
Said Franks: “There’s so much parity in our conference and the area. The difference from the top to the bottom is very, very small. It’s all about on any given night, who shows up, who’s focused and playing at a high level. That’s who’s going to be successful. But we just talk about ourselves, getting better and being the best that we can be.”
There doesn’t appear to be a super team in the area. So conference races, and the postseason, could be anybody’s game.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Franks said. “Everybody knows everybody so well. Teams do a good job, exposing your weaknesses. So you have to be able to execute. I think there’s a lot of real good teams, well-coached teams. That margin for error is very small for all of us.”
David Allen can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpudPJS.