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After his team lost in overtime to Rockford Christian on Jan. 18, Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said his team had to do a better job of getting the ball inside.
Point guard Mangisto Deng took those words to heart and has rapidly improved his passing. The 6-7 junior displayed those skills and more Tuesday night in leading the host Red Ramblers to a 75-39 rout of Indian Creek.
The win was the eighth in a row for Mooseheart (17-5), which played its best game of the season, scoring a season-high point total while dissecting an Indian Creek team that had lost only 39-30 last Friday to Hinckley-Big Rock, the No. 4-ranked Class 1A team in the state and the squad that is seeded first at the Westminster Christian Regional, one spot ahead of the Ramblers. It was the most points given up by the Timberwolves this year.
“It was weird, [Rockford] came here and beat us in our home,” Deng said. “We’re not supposed to lose but that’s what it is. That is basketball, so people learn from mistakes.
“We know our mistakes. We’ve been working hard.”
It shows. Deng had 19 points, a career-high 11 assists and three steals and teamed with 6-10 junior forward Makur Puou to form a devastating inside-outside combination.
The 11 assists were the most ever by a player under Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens, and most of them set up Puou, who tallied a game-high 25 points to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks.
“We passed the ball very well and everyone was cooking,” Puou said. “Our guards were aggressive on defense and we’re doing very well. It was one of the best games we’ve ever had.”
Indian Creek (13-10) held a 9-5 lead in the first quarter before the Ramblers reeled off the next 16 points, which proved to be the start of a 44-12 run that gave the hosts a 49-21 cushion midway through the third quarter.
Deng was magnificent, sinking his first six shots and finishing the game 7-for-8 from the floor, including five three-pointers.
“That’s my spot,” Deng said of the three-point arc near the top of the key. “I practice every day, so if they give me a chance to shoot, I just shoot.
Most of those treys were set up by kick-outs from Puou, who was dominant around the rim. Puou made 12-of-23 shots from the floor, including one dunk and two nice turnarounds, but he knew what to do when the Timberwolves collapsed on him.
“When Mangisto passed me the ball down low, they tried to double-team me,” Puou said. “So that’s a chance for my open guard. When someone comes to double-team me, I have to kick the ball out and we’ll get a wide-open shot, and Mangisto shot the ball very well tonight.”
Of course, having a 6-10 big man underneath to clean up your scraps helps a shooter’s confidence.
“It’s really good,” Deng said. “That’s why I shoot it. If I miss, Makur is going to take it.”
Mooseheart moved the ball extremely well, registering assists on its first six baskets and 14 of 17 in the first half. The Ramblers finished with 22 assists and shot 32-for-56 (57 percent) from the field. Hameed Odunewu had three assists, while Kevin Gbadebo and Peter Kurowski each had two.
“I’m really happy with our offense,” Ahrens said. “It was kind of the ‘Manny and Mack’ show tonight and they played extremely well, but I think our defense is starting to jell a little bit. Our defense is starting to set up our offense.”
Odunewu and Kurowski scored seven points apiece for Mooseheart, while 7-1 center Akim Nyang added six points, five boards and two blocks. Jason Todd led Indian Creek with 18 points.