JOHNSONBURG – The undefeated Rams (3-0) used a strong first half Friday to fiend off a scrappy Sheffield team in a 72-47 victory.
Johnsonburg was fueled by a quintet of stars who combined for 56 points on the night. Johnsonburg junior Quinn Luhr paced all scorers with 18 points; he was followed by sophomores Cole Peterson and Cameron Grumley, who finished with 14 and 13 points, respectively, and junior Kyle Sheldon, who contributed 11 points to the cause.
"We have seven players and once Billy Bliss comes back it'll be eight players," said Johnsonburg head boys varsity basketball coach Bill Shuey. "The good thing is that they're interchangeable and I knew coming into the season that we had players who one night would score six points and on another night they could be at 16 points, and that's what seems to be happening.
"They're definitely a very good team and they show good chemistry on the floor also. With a 3-0 start, I suppose I thought that that was possible because we played a lot of ball during the summer and I knew this team had some potential."
Sheffield held its own until midway through the first quarter as they were only two points off the pace down 10-8. That all changed when Luhr drained a 3-pointer and added a steal and a layup seven seconds later for a 15-8 advantage. The Wolverines' downhill trend continued as Grumley nailed a long field goal just inside the 3-point line for a 17-8 lead; Grumley later cashed in from behind the arc with 2:46 remaining in the first quarter for a 20-8 lead.
A layup from Sheffield's Mark Sprandle did not provide a spark as Johnsonburg junior Frank Kocjancic answered back with a layup and subsequent free throw after being fouled for a 23-10 first quarter lead.
"It was a good team effort and we had some balanced scoring," coach Shuey said. "We had a lot of nice passes, a lot of steals and overall, I thought we hustled.
"I think we also missed a lot of easy shots but it wasn't for a lack of effort."
The Wolverines fared little better in the second half as they sent the Rams to the free throw line nine times. A Peterson field goal and two Luhr free throws upped the lead to 27-10. Sheffield's Kalil Slaughter came up with an offensive rebound and easy basket after George Fitch missed from the free throw line to cut the lead to 14 points. Grumley followed on the other end with a field goal and free throw after being fouled for a 30-13 lead.
From there, Sheldon stole the show with a long jumper at the 3:51 mark for a 32-13 lead; the standout junior then came up with a steal and easy layup for a 21-point lead. Sheldon nearly came up with another steal but completed a 3-point play on the Rams' next possession after being fouled on a successful layup try for a 37-16 lead. Luhr would later complete his own 3-point play as Sheffield got into early foul trouble before halftime. Luhr and Sheldon finished with back-to-back layups with less than a minute remaining in the first half for a 45-19 lead.
The Rams continued to pound it out inside the paint as Johnsonburg took a 55-22 lead midway through the third quarter thanks to two timely jumpers from Johnsonburg senior Michael Shuey and a Peterson jumper at the 4:56 mark.
The Wolverines lost starter Nick Bonavita after he fouled out of the game with 2:13 to go in the third quarter. From there, the Rams finished the quarter with layups from Luhr and Kocjancic, and two free throws from Grumley to take a 64-32 lead.
Sheffield stayed in the contest late with a pair of long range shots, one a 3-pointer from Mark Sprandle and a long field goal just inside the arc at the buzzer from Ike Nearing, who paced Sheffield with 12 points.
The Wolverines closed the gap in the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run as Brendan Winslow and Nearing hit consecutive layups on transition plays, followed by a long 3-pointer from Dylan McNeal, and a long layup from Nearing to cut the lead to 66-47.
"We had some other players on the floor and I wanted to get some younger kids playing time with some of the older ones but that wasn't the reason why we gave up a 10-point run," coach Shuey said. "We dropped off on the intensity a bit and the defense at times fell asleep a bit."
A Shuey layup was sandwiched between two more Peterson scores as the Rams finished the game, 72-47.
In addition to scoring in double figures, Grumley, Luhr and Peterson each had 10 rebounds apiece in the win while Shuey led the team with 17 boards.
"I thought Sheffield put forth a very good effort and despite this score, when we go up there [to Sheffield] it's going to be a dogfight, and it's always that way, and it will be a closer game," coach Shuey said.