Despite beating Warren County twice in the regular season, William Monroe got dealt the short end of the stick seeding wise in the Conference 28 tournament, placing third overall. However, in the grand scheme of things, or at least momentum wise, that might not have been the worst thing as the Dragons had to play host to Skyline instead of earning a first round bye. In its conference opener, Monroe was dominant from start to finish, as its first and third quarter efforts paved the way to a 67-39 win.
“We knew that if we lost the game today the season was over,” said Dragons coach Mike Maynard. “So we came out with a lot more energy (than last week in the BRD tourney). We shot the ball pretty well and they tried to play us man-to-man early. We got a lot of open looks… that opened up things inside.”
Monroe used a 10-0 run in the first quarter led by Austin Batten and Jeff Early to build a 19-5 lead going into the second quarter with the Dragons knocking down its 3-point shots despite the shift from man-to-man to zone and cleaning up inside in the paint on both ends of the court.
“We just passed the ball really good and they left our shooters open,” Batten said. “We knew they were going to play a 1-3-1 on us (eventually) an worked on that in practice.”
The second quarter was an even exchange between both squads with Monroe going up by as many as 19 and entering the break with a 15-point advantage.
“We struggled a little bit early rebounding,” Early said. “But we got it together after Coach Maynard got after us.”
Out of the break the Hawks weren’t able to keep pace with the Dragons and it played out much like it did in the first. The rebounding margin continued to favor Monroe and another hot streak allowed the hosts to take a 26-point lead heading into the fourth.
“We looked inside early but we kicked out because we’ve got three good shooters,” Early said. “If our posts can get it, we give it to our shooters.”
The final frame was all but a victory lap as Skyline simply couldn’t get things rolling because of turnovers and a slower pace. Monroe worked in its bench with ease to close out the opening round win and preserve its legs for its third meeting with a trip to Warren County on Tuesday.
On the night, Batten led all scorers with 19 points. Early finished with 18 points and hauled in seven rebounds. Darion McKinnie doled out eight assists. Keegan Woolford had five rebounds while Martin Hunter had three blocks.
“We’ve got four kids that played a lot of minutes (in last year’s state final four run),” Maynard said. “Those four guys have a lot of experience so we’re hoping that will help us out coming up in the future.”