HARRISON TWP. — Adversity and winning are going hand in hand for Madison High School’s boys basketball team.
There’s no question the Mohawks were highly regarded in the preseason, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride thus far. A late start due to Madison’s football success didn’t help, and the injury bug has taken up residence on the roster.
So why is this squad 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division? Talent, yes, but plenty of perseverance as well.
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“They’ve been very resilient,” veteran coach Jeff Smith said Saturday night after his Mohawks went on the road and defeated Northridge 62-51. “I like this team. I like their toughness. They enjoy playing together. They’re a fun group to be around.”
Madison still has three players (Cameron Morgan, Ryan Duritsch, Evan Crim) out with injuries, though Levi McMonigle and Grant Whisman are back after missing three games apiece.
The latter two, generally regarded as the team’s two best players, were sidelined when the Mohawks suffered their lone loss, a 32-28 home decision against Edgewood on Dec. 8.
“And we were still a 3-pointer away from winning that game,” Smith said. “We do have some size, which has helped us weather the storm of injuries. I like our balance because we can shoot it from the perimeter and we’ve got a four-headed monster inside with Levi and Grant and Jake Munafo and Ryan Duritsch.”
Saturday’s contest was just the second time all season that Madison has given up 50 points.
It was also the Mohawks’ first game since going 3-0 and winning their bracket championship at the King of the Smokies Christmas Classic in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. McMonigle was the Most Valuable Player and was joined by Whisman and Matt Gomia on the all-tournament team.
“We’ve been holding good teams in the 40s,” Smith said. “Our defense has been there, and it always gives us a chance. We’ve been on the road quite a bit, but we finish with six out of seven at home. We’ll eventually get to that building, and we want people to fill it up.”
Gomia, a junior guard, said the players have taken the rash of injuries in stride.
“We’ve been playing since the third grade, and over the years we’ve bonded and created chemistry,” Gomia said. “Once we get everybody back, we’re just going to keep it rolling.”
Madison had to put in some work to conquer Northridge, which has dealt with missing players as well, but finally has everybody back and could be a team to watch heading into the Division II postseason.
Twon Hines (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Charles Drewery (15 points, 12 boards, three steals) paced the Polar Bears, who were hampered by 20 turnovers and some missed free throws down the stretch.
“We’re trying to jell as a team right now,” said Northridge coach Jeff Lisath, who had two players out with injuries and one out for disciplinary reasons earlier in the season. “Losing those guys at the beginning of the season kind of messed with our chemistry, so we have to get back to doing the things we can to get better.
“We have a lot of speed, quickness, athleticism, and I think we’re pretty solid defensively. We’ve got to get settled in our halfcourt offense and knock down shots. That’s the name of the game. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I think we’re going to be a good basketball team down the stretch.”
McMonigle had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Division III Mohawks. Whisman tallied 12 points and seven boards, while Gomia scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth period.
“In the beginning, I had two rough shots. The coaches just kept boosting me, telling me to drive the ball, get in the lane and see what I could,” Gomia said.
Madison’s biggest lead was 42-26 in the last two minutes of the third quarter. Northridge cut the deficit to seven on four occasions from there before falling to 5-6, 2-3.
The Mohawks were 17-of-29 at the charity stripe. The Polar Bears were 8-of-15.
“We weren’t stellar from the line, and we’ve been great from the line all year,” said Smith, whose team totaled 19 turnovers. “We panicked a little bit and coughed the ball up, but a team like Northridge will do that to you sometimes.”
“That’s just the atmosphere here,” Gomia added of the loud crowd and high gym temperature. “It’s fun for the most part. We’re in a battle every time we come here. Give credit to Northridge. They always bring their best.”
The Polar Bears will be at home against Milton-Union on Friday. Madison travels to Monroe on Tuesday.
MADISON (9-1, 5-0 SWBL Buckeye): Matt Gomia 5 4 15; Tristan Sipple 2 2 7; Mason Whiteman 2 1 5; Grant Whisman 4 3 12; Levi McMonigle 6 4 16; Jake Munafo 0 1 1; Turner Campbell 0 1 1; Jake Phelps 2 1 5. Totals: 21-17-62
NORTHRIDGE (5-6, 2-3 SWBL Buckeye): Twon Hines 9 1 20; Charles Drewery 5 5 15; Darryl Story 2 0 4; Chad Florence 1 0 2; Jared Lewis 2 0 4; Shawn Shehee 1 2 4; LaChone Hooper 1 0 2. Totals: 21-8-51
3-pointers: M 3 (Gomia, Sipple, Whisman), N 1 (Hines)