Free throw discrepancy a factor in Montini’s 3A state semifinal loss

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NORMAL – Morton parlayed a 23-1 scoring advantage at the free-throw line into a surprising 58-44 upset of defending state champion Montini in a 3A semifinal Friday at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University.

Morton (Ill.) scored its final 20 points at the free-throw line and did not make a field goal during the final 11:03 of the game.

“Give Morton a lot of credit,” Montini head coach Jason Nichols said. “The things you saw on the floor were the things we saw on film. They get great ball movement, they’re great shooters, they’re very unselfish. It didn’t help that we came out in the second half and let them score the first 10 points.

“We were chasing the rest of the way. We put ourselves in that position in the first half. We were down four and could have easily been up one or two at the half.”

When asked about the 31-2 discrepancy in free-throw attempts, Nichols knew it was significant, but was surprised by the size of the disparity.

“I think if I said anything, that would be a disservice to [Morton coach Bob Becker] and his team,” he said. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know it was 31-2. That’s a lot larger than I thought. Wow. That stinks. But we got beat because we didn’t do what we needed to do.”

Montini (30-6) took an 11-8 lead on a 3-pointer by Nikki Oppenheiner with 1:01 remaining in the first quarter, but Morton answered with a 15-6 run fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by Emma Heisler to build a 23-17 lead with 11 seconds left in the second quarter.

Kelsey Bogdan closed the gap to 23-19 at the break with a scoop shot in the lane with two seconds remaining to salvage what was otherwise a dismal second quarter by the Broncos, who were outscored 13-8.

“We had some opportunities in the post and we went away from it,” Nichols said. “We talked about it early. That’s where the game flipped. We blew off our post in the first half. We had a size advantage at the five spot.”

Morton (32-3) opened the second half on a 10-0 run to build a 33-21 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.

The Broncos, after shooting 8-for-18 in the first half, finished 19-for-45 from the field and attempted only two free throws in the game, both in the first quarter.

Chandler Ryan, who was 13-for-13 from the free-throw line, led Morton with 19 points. Brandi Bisping and Heisler both finished with 14 points.

“The girls came out with no deer in the headlights look,” Becker said. “They had a humble swagger. We played really, really well. We took care of the ball. We only had four turnovers. That’s unbelievable. I told the girls the state title goes through Montini.”

Rainey Kuykendall led Montini with 11 points, Bogdan added nine and Oppenheimer finished with eight.

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