Roland-Story boys remain focused on another Heart of Iowa Conference title
The Roland-Story boys basketball team suffered its first loss of the season on Tuesday, 48-45 at the hands of Iowa Falls-Alden. That didn't sit will with sophomore forward Jonovan Wilkinson.
“Losing on Tuesday didn’t feel too good,” Wilkinson said. “I don’t want to feel that again."
Wilkinson took it upon himself to get Roland-Story back on the right track Friday in its first Heart of Iowa Conference game since Christmas break. Wilkinson went for 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead Roland-Story to a 73-36 victory at home over West Marshall.
"We knew we were going to come out here and give everything we’ve got," Wilkinson said. "We came out and attacked. We got everyone involved and got a good team win.”
The Norsemen improved to 9-1 and remained atop the HOIC with a 7-0 conference record. They are looking to repeat as conference champions, but Nevada is nipping at their heels with a 6-1 HOIC record.
“We just want to keep it going,” Roland-Story point guard Isaiah Naylor said. “People have stepped up this year. We got better in the offseason and we’re hoping to come out on top again.”
Naylor is one of several players who have stepped up for Roland-Story this season. He went for 19 points and three steals against West Marshall and is averaging a team-best 15.9 points along with 2.4 steals and 2.0 assists as the team's primary ball handler.
Wilkinson is a jack-of-all-trades forward and the perfect complement to Naylor. Wilkinson is putting up 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
The athleticism and versatility of Naylor and Wilkinson set the tone for the rest of the team.
“They really put a lot of pressure on the rim,” Roland-Story head coach Darrin Berggren said. “They both do a great job of drawing the defense and then finding the open person.”
But if Roland-Story is to repeat as conference champions the Norsemen are going to need other players to step up. So far they have.
Junior center Luke Patton is averaging 9.3 points and an HOIC-best 11.2 rebounds. Senior Will Bunn averages 7.1 points and 2.4 assists and junior Ben Greenfield is putting up 6.6 points per game off the bench.
“We just want to keep it going with the guys we’ve got,” Naylor said. “People have stepped up this year."
If they're not scoring, they're doing other things to help the Norsemen win.
Junior Kale Lande is averaging just 2.6 points. But he's come up with some big baskets, is shooting 87.6% from the line, averages 4.2 rebounds and provides strong defensive play in the post.
“Usually I’m not needed to do a ton of scoring because of these two guys (Wilkinson and Naylor), and Luke and Ben are always stepping up,” Lande said. “I just do whatever I can. A lot of times that’s rebounding and defense, and when I need to score hopefully I can do so.”
Sophomore Boaz Clark went for eight points against West Marshall. He is averaging 4.6 points and shooting 44% from 3-point range.
Senior Matthew Phelan is a gritty defender and senior leader for the Norsemen.
“We’ve got a lot of length and athletes that cover a lot of ground,” Berggren said. “They can contest every shot.”
Through its first 10 games Roland-Story is giving up an average of just 42.3 points per game. The Norsemen lead the HOIC in fewest points allowed per game.
“Everything starts with our defense,” Berggren said. “If we hit shots then we have a shot to have great games like tonight, and if we don’t hit shots we’re still going to be in the game until the end.”
Roland-Story is 12th in Class 2A for field-goal accuracy at 46.6% and averages just 10.5 turnovers per game. The Norsemen also are the second-best rebounding team in 2A at 36.2 per game.
The recipe for success has been simple.
“Teamwork and energy,” Wilkinson said. “The energy on the bench is good and we got energy from the student section. It just really gets us going.”
Those were definitely key factors in Friday's win over West Marshall.
“We talked about trying to get the crowd into it right away,” Berggren said. “We had a great run right from the start.”
But there is still a long way to go before Roland-Story can achieve its goals. The Norsemen have to play at Nevada on Jan. 18 and four days before that they travel to Jefferson to face a Greene County team that is third in the conference with a 5-2 record.
Then there is the postseason. Roland-Story was knocked out in the 2A district semifinals by South Central Calhoun last season. The Norsemen plan on going deeper into the postseason this year.
"We’ve just got to be disciplined, be in the right spots, have toughness on defense and push the pace," Berggren said. "We’re excited with where we’re at, but we’ve got to keep getting better because it’s just going to keep getting tougher.”