Millard South got an unexpected home game on Thursday night and made the most of it, pulling away late against Omaha Bryan for a 58-36 win. The game was originally scheduled to take place at Bryan, but issues with the gym floor led to a change of venue.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Causing a Ruckus
The best player on the floor Thursday night was Millard South junior Lance Rucker. Rucker is a beast on the gridiron as a defensive end who can really get after the passer, but he’s having a terrific season on the hardwood as well.
Rucker is an undersized big at 6-foot-3, but he’s a bouncy athlete who uses his strength and motor to dominate the offensive glass and finish at a high rate amongst the trees. He’s leading the patriots in scoring this season at better than 12 points per game on 60% shooting.
On Thursday, Rucker lead all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-8 from the field and 4-of-8 from the free-throw line, and he also grabbed eight rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive end.
One of his best plays of the night came at the end of the first quarter as junior Maal Jal took the ball the length of the floor for an and-one layup with one second left. He missed the free throw but Rucker beat everyone to the ball and tipped it in at the buzzer to give the Patriots a 14-12 lead at the end of one.
Rucker had six offensive rebounds in total in the first half as the Patriots corralled 10 caroms on the offensive end in total to build a five-point lead at halftime. After scoring 11 in the first half, Rucker scored five more in the third as the Patriots outscored the Bears 9-5, then ran away from them in the fourth.
Bynum has Big Potential
If Rucker was the best player on the floor, Omaha Bryan freshman A’mare Bynum might have been the most intriguing. He led the Bears with nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks against the Patriots.
Bynum has six games in double-digits this season including three double-doubles. He put up a 17-point, 14-rebound, four-assist, two-block performance in a win over Benson last month. At 6-foot-4 with long arms, Bynum is an impactful rim protecter who also shows the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter as he is shooting 37% from deep on the season.
Bynum is still raw as most freshmen are, but as he continues to grow and round out his game he has a chance to be a special player down the road.
Stuffing the Stat Sheet
Nebraska football signee Gage Stenger is a four-year varsity player on the basketball court as well for Millard South. He was one of the better basketball players in his class as s sophomore before it became clear football would be his future. Even now, he’s running the point and stuffing the stat sheet for the Patriots.
Stenger didn’t have a big scoring day on Thursday, but he just missed out on a double-double as he tied his career high with 12 rebounds and also recorded nine points, three assists and three steals. On the season, Stenger is leading the state in assists among the schools that report to MaxPreps at 6.5 per game, showing his quarterback vision translates to the hardwood as well. He has games of 12, 12 and 10 assists so far this season.
In the Zone
The final margin indicates a blowout, but it was a single-digit game heading into the fourth before things spiraled out of control for the Bears. Millard South’s decision to sit in a 2-3 zone paid dividends as the Bears struggled to score all night long.
Ball movement is key to beating a zone, but ultimately you’re going to have to knock down some shots from the perimeter in order to put some strain on the defense. Bryan simply couldn’t do that on Thursday, shooing 2-of-20 from deep for the game. Bynum knocked down a 3 for Bryan’s first bucket of the game and then the Bears didn’t hit again until the fourth quarter after Millard South had already pulled away.
With sophomore Will Cooper (6-foot-6), Rucker, Stenger (6-foot-3), Austin Trotter (6-foot-3) and Braden Cannon (6-foot-2) plus Jal (6-foot-4) and Jackson Crain (6-foot-4) off the bench, the Patriots have plenty of length to throw out there and make that zone hard to break down.
Big Man, Big Loss
The Bears were hanging tight in the game until late in the third quarter when senior big man Lam Kuany picked up three fouls in two minutes, giving him five and ending his day early. Thursday was the first time since the season-opener when Kuany didn’t reach double figures as he fouled out with just six points.
The 6-foot-7 senior was coming off a career-high 31 points (plus 16 rebounds) in a win over Omaha Northwest on Tuesday. At 6-13, Bryan has already surpassed last season’s win total of four under new head coach Galen Gullie, who has done a good job taking over a tough situation. Kuany is the biggest reason for the improvement as he is averaging 18.9 points and 9.1 rebounds with eight double-doubles this season.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.