Morton is not known as a great free-throw shooting team, so opponents generally don’t mind putting the Mustangs on the line.
The strategy might need to be reassessed in the wake of what Morton did Friday night.
The Mustangs sank 24-of-27 free throws and that, combined with a dominant inside game, allowed them to overcome 25 turnovers to knock off Downers South 65-52 in West Suburban Conference Gold Division action in Downers Grove.
“For once we made our free throws,” Morton coach Tony Martinucci said. “I really think they’re concentrating harder. Couple guys made free throws who definitely don’t shoot that well. I think they’re taking a little more stock in it.”
As well they should, seeing as how it proved to be the difference. Both sides made 19 baskets, but the hosts made just 11-of-22 foul shots.
Senior forward Wiesner Perez went 10-for-12 from the line while dominating at both ends. He finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and three steals.
“In practice, Coach focuses on free throws a lot, especially at the end of practice when we’re all tired,” Perez said. “It puts pressure on us. We’ve got to get a certain amount and if we don’t reach that, we’re running. So we’ve been working on that and focusing a lot on shooting free throws.”
Morton (5-1, 2-0) needed it to overcome a tenacious defensive effort by undersized Downers South (3-5, 1-2), which led 12-7 late in the first quarter despite not starting anyone taller than 6-2.
But the 6-6 Perez and 6-7 forward Antario Simon feasted down low and that turned the tide in the second quarter when the visitors outscored Downers South 21-10 to take a 33-24 halftime lead. Morton pummeled the hosts on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 45-19 as Simon grabbed 13 boards and Keandre Townes had eight. No Downers South player had more than five. “We exposed the match-up,” Perez said. “We knew they were really small going in. Even before the game I looked at Antario and said, ‘It’s time to eat, time for us to really dominate inside.’ And that’s what we ended up doing.” But it wasn’t easy. Morton led 41-27 midway through the third quarter when Downers South’s trapping defense started forcing steals and turnovers. Danny Spinuzza, Paul Engo and Matthew Zinneker combined for 16 steals, most of which came after intermission, and Downers South cut the gap to 43-38 on a three-pointer by Spinuzza with 1:08 left in the third. But Townes answered with two free throws and then Greg Carter hit back-to-back pull-up jumpers to begin the fourth quarter. The lead was never less than seven after that. “They had their little run,” Perez said. “They threw their punch and we just stayed poised and under control. When things started going bad and we started turning it over a lot, we just had to stay calm. And the free throws helped seal the deal at the end.” Morton placed five players in double figures as Jarvis Cannon tallied 11 points while Carter, Simon and Townes all had 10. Engo scored 19 points and Spinuzza finished with 18 for Downers South.