HAMMOND | Morton coach Kevin Dermody wrote simple instructions on the locker room chalkboard at halftime.
Handle the pressure.
He was referring to Gavit’s suffocating full-court pressure, but Dermody added some barometric pressure in the room by bellowing about his team’s first-half shortcomings, and the Governors answered.
The Governors came out of the break strong and eventually went on a 10-2 run early in the third quarter. Gavit then had pressure to come from behind and ultimately couldn’t as Morton held on for a 66-57 win Friday night in Great Lakes Athletic Conference action.
“We knew if we could handle the pressure we’d be better off,” Dermody said. “I’ve told them all along that the most important thing in a game is how you play at the start of the third quarter. Up until tonight they had not been this good at it.”
Morton junior Rayan Elabed had six of his game-high 20 points in the third-quarter blitz that turned a 31-29 halftime deficit into a 41-35 lead for the Governors (4-6, 2-0). Carl Murry had seven of his 16 points during the quarter.
Elabed and Murry were the recipients of press-breaking passes, most of them from Devon Mingo, who had six assists on the night playing a midfielder role through Gavit's strangling defense.
“I don’t think we thought their pressure would affect us as much as it did,” Dermody said. “(Gavit) came out and jumped on us. We adjusted, and things started to get better.”
Xavier Copeland's massive dunk in the second quarter put Gavit up 18-15 and gave the Gladiators space in a back-and-forth game.
Copeland led the Glads with 13 points and nine rebounds, but he fouled out as Morton had 13 of its 16 fourth-quarter points from the free-throw line. Morton shot no free throws in the first half.
Elabed and Mingo were saddled with foul trouble early as Gavit (5-5, 1-1) led by as many as six points.
“We’re a different team without them on the floor,” Dermody said. “We don’t handle the pressure without them. They’re our heart and soul out there.”