ST. JOHN — Down nine points and searching for ways to score, Morton adjusted its defense.
"We had to get out of our man defense," interim coach Scott Lush said. "Their post players were really just able to post up, so we went to a 2-3 zone just to mix it up. Outside, I told them the game plan was to just get a hand in their face and contest shots. That's what we did and it worked."
With little more than five minutes left in the second quarter of Tuesday's sectional opener against Highland, the Governors turned to a zone defense that led to a 9-1 run. The momentum stretched into the second half, and a 20-1 run helped propel Morton to the 49-45 win. The Govs advance to Friday's Class 4A Lake Central Sectional semifinal against E.C. Central.
"We've still got another game to win, so we don't want to get too confident, but this feels great," said Kionne Layne, who led Morton with a game-high 20 points.
In a man-to-man defense to open the game, Morton let Highland pick up easy points in the post while allowing the Trojans to kick outside for four 3s that led to a 21-12 lead.
By shutting out the post and putting a hand in the face of the outside shooters, the Govs (10-14) started to capitalize. They also began to pick up more defensive rebounds. Koebe Clapton had just a block in the first quarter and nabbed three defensive rebounds in the second.
"They went to a zone and that was a good adjustment by them," Highland coach Jordan Heckard said. "They were getting a lot of post touches and that change caused us to pass around our perimeter. We needed to be more aggressive."
Emonte Collins hit a bucket to open the third quarter and give Morton a 23-22 lead, its first of the game.
Layne sunk a 3, grabbed a rebound for a layup, then hit another as part of his own 7-0 run over nearly two minutes to push Morton ahead 32-22.
Highland returned some rhythm late. Alex Pulleyblandk hit a bucket at the buzzer to pull the Trojans (12-12) within four points and Jordan Siska, coming in off the bench, scored in the first 20 seconds of the fourth quarter to return within two.
In the last two minutes, the teams traded 3s, giving Highland a brief return to the lead at 45-44 with 1:46 remaining in the game.
"We had a couple of guys off the bench — (William) Morinville, (Jordan) Siska and (Damen) Castillo — who came in and were huge right away," Heckard said. "They were able to score a couple and stop the run and stop the bleeding. Going into the fourth quarter down only four gave us a chance."
Collins hit his first 3 of the game with 1:06 left and Clapton's sixth rebound was his biggest, a grab with six seconds remaining that led to a dunk by Layne.
"At halftime, we stressed how important the third quarter was to winning the game," Lush said. "One of the things we talk about all the time is how important the third quarter is. You look at the games we've won, we've won in the third quarter."
Morton out-scored Highland 15-10 in the third quarter after opening with a 11-0 run.
Pulleyblank's 13 points paced Highland and Tyler Brankin hit four 3s for 12 points.
"For a lot of these guys, this is their last game. We had six seniors," Heckard said. "I told them that when they walk out of here they should hold their heads up high. A couple years ago, we only won five games. And then nine games. For our younger guys, just winning five games isn't acceptable anymore. That's what they did."