The Rolla boys basketball team (5-5) played their first game of 2017 in a packed home gym when they hosted Union on Friday, Jan. 6. After a tight start to the contest, the Bulldogs ran away with things in a 63-45 win.
The Bulldogs were powered by the three ball against Union and it started in the first quarter, as three different players sank one from behind the arc in the first. The first quarter flew by, with both teams draining shot after shot on seemingly every possession. Those threes would end up being a lot of the difference in the first, as Rolla was out in front 21-16.
In the second quarter, Rolla somehow kicked it up a notch from behind the arc and it was all thanks to Brandon Cunningham. After he drained a three in the first quarter, he sank three straight threes in the second. Alec Buhr added a three of his own, as Rolla went into the half with a solid 37-26 lead.
Rolla couldn't find Cunningham open often in the second half and he was held scoreless, but the rest of the team chipped in just fine. In the third, Nick Janke did the heavy lifting in the paint with six of his 14 points in the game. The inside game was strong in the second half, as their three main big men scored more than half of their points. Zac Burns and Aaron Cunningham each scored all five of their points in the second half. That inside out presence helped Rolla coast to a 63-45 win.
Josh Pritchett had a somewhat quiet night with 11 points, but with good reason. He had to deal with a defending conference player of the year in Ethan Hughes on both sides of the basketball and performed well. This was an interesting matchup for Pritchett, as he and Hughes are both lankier players who can shoot it from the outside and drive to the basket. He and the Bulldogs managed to hold Hughes to just 13 points and that performance by Pritchett on both sides of the ball speaks volumes to head coach Mark Miller.
"We tried to put that as a little challenge to Pritch too," said coach Miller. "We said, 'this is a good match up and this is a player of the year in their conference, he's got good size, he can shoot it well from three and he can attack really well, let's see what you can get done.' And Josh stepped up. I feel like he played very intelligent defense against him. You're not gonna completely shut down a kid like that, but I thought Josh did a great job on him."
The Rolla scoring was well balanced. Janke and Brandon Cunningham were tied for the team lead in scoring with 14, while Pritchett chipped in 12. All in all, nine different Bulldogs scored in the win.
"We've got so many guys that can score it for us," said coach Miller. "Brandon Cunningham, I just loved seeing him stroking the three. He had four in the first half and my only disappointment was that we didn't find him more in the second half to give him more looks at it. It was nice to get guys coming off the bench and doing a nice job. From top to bottom, I felt like all the guys gave a great effort."
Rolla will look to start a winning streak in 2017 when Hillcrest comes to town on Tuesday, Jan. 10.
B. Cunningham - 14, Janke - 14, Pritchett - 11, Buhr - 6, Burns - 5, A. Cunningham - 5, Grooms - 3, Arthur - 3, Martin - 2