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Mooseheart's Mangisto Deng is defended by the Illinois Math and Science Academy's Gregory O'Bannon on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Illinois Math & Science Academy was no match for visiting Mooseheart, which starts a frontline of three Sudanese natives who stand 7-foot-1, 6-10 and 6-7. The towering Red Ramblers soared past IMSA 56-21 in a Nortrheastern Athletic Conference matchup Wednesday night.
About 100 IMSA students on hand for the game “oohed and ahhed” the Red Ramblers’ high flyers as well as their own team’s small victories and then posed for pictures with Moosheart’s 6-10 Makur Puou (23 points, eight rebounds, three blocks), 6-7 Mangisto Deng (six assists) and 7-1 Akim Nyang (10 points, six rebounds, six blocks) afterward.
“It’s like this everywhere,” said Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens, whose team climbs to 14-5 and 5-1 in the league.
“One thing I’m always preaching to the kids is if we can play defense we can be a really good team,” he continued. “I thought we played excellent defense in both our man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone tonight.
“I was also happy with the way we played offensively. Our goal now is to make an extra pass to set up a shot instead of running our one pass offense.”
It worked early on as Mooseheart had assists on six of 10 first-quarter baskets.
“They were all starry-eyed, no doubt about it,” IMSA coach Tom Hinkel said of his 2-14 team that fell to 1-5 in the conference.
“The feet weren’t moving. They’re too young to have heard the old adage about how they put their pants on one leg at a time, too. They’ve never been in this position before.”
After seeing Puou gather a lob from Deng and slam home a dunk on the opening possession, the Titan players might have told Hinkle to check the inseam on those pants.
IMSA junior Isiah Butler, who said he stands “6-5 or 6-6” did his best against the taller opponents and battled hard throughout.
With 2:29 remaining, he grabbed a rebound off his own shot that was blocked by Nyang and hooked it up over the big man for just his second basket of the game.
“I had three or four shots blocked but you have to keep trying,” said Butler, who added a team-high seven rebounds and had two blocked shots of his own.
Joshua-Paul Ajayi and Gregory O’Bannon also had four points each for the Titans.
“You can’t worry about getting a shot blocked,” said Hinkle. “We haven’t had to put shot fakes in our game before but you have to get them off their feet. Once a team has numerous blocks, they’re ready to block everything and that’s how you get them off their feet.”
Which brings to mind another adage: Sometimes, it’s easier said than done.