Trailing 22-18 at halftime, Monroe coach Frank Ostanik had a question for his team.
“The first thing I asked them was, ‘Can we play better than that?’ Every one of them said yes.”
And they did.
The Rams drained five 3-poiners in the third quarter and outscored Anchorage Christian 18-7 en route to a 56-50 win in Friday’s Class 3A boys state basketball semifinal at Sullivan Arena. Monroe will meet Grace Christian — winners of a 68-47 semifinal over Bethel — in Saturday’s championship.
Monroe shot 52.4 percent from the field and hit six of its seven treys in the second half, which was the difference, ACS coach Ron Hoffman said. The Lions defended well against Monroe 3-pointers in the first half, Hoffman said, but allowed too many open looks from beyond the arc in the final 16 minutes.
“There’s no excuse,” he said.
Working as one unit keyed the victory, said Jalon McCullough, who paced Monroe with 18 points.
“We knew if we played together we’d come out with a win,” he said.
Tyler Wells (17 points) and Scooter Bynum (13) also reached double digits for Monroe.
Levi Auble scored a team-high 18 points for ACS, which got 11 from Nathan Simmers and 10 from Calvin Hoffman.
Eight of McCullough’s points came in the third quarter including two of his three treys. He credited his teammates with creating prime opportunities.
“They were better passes than they were shots,” he said.
A Bynum jumper and another 3-pointer from McCullough put Monroe up 41-29 early in the fourth. ACS made it a seven-point game, 50-43, with 90 seconds left. But the Lions were forced to foul to control the clock. Monroe went four of six from the line in the final 22 seconds to keep it a two-possession game the rest of the way.
Ostanik said the halftime deficit could have been greater than four points for Monroe, which held the ball too much and lacked movement on offense in the opening 16 minutes. Ostanik knew his team would remain composed in the second half.
“We just have an extraordinarily disciplined group of kids,” he said.
So does Grace, Ostanik said. He anticipates a matchup of similar teams in the finals.
“We’re gonna have our hands full with a great Grace team,” Ostanik said.
Monroe has won 47 straight games, 20 to end last season and is 27-0 this season. If the Rams want to cap a perfect season with their third straight state title, they can’t worry about who their opponent is, McCullough said.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” he said. “We just have to bring it.”
Grace 68, Bethel 47
Eric Johnson poured in a game-high 34 points to lead Grace Christian past Bethel 68-47. Johnson shot better than 70 percent from the field, including six of seven from beyond the arc.
Theodore Naneng pumped in 24 points to lead Bethel and was the only other player in double figures for either team.
The Grizzlies led 33-17 at the half and held a 52-37 advantage going into the fourth quarter. Grace outscored Bethel 16-10 in the final eight minutes.
Sitka 70, Delta 33
Sitka made 54.5 percent of its field goals en route to a lopsided 70-33 win over Delta. The Wolves put the game out of reach early by building a 30-5 lead after one quarter.
Sitka’s Brian Way pumped in 20 points to lead all scorers. Oscar Barragan added 16 points and Quinten White chipped in 11 for the Wolves.
Carlos Camacho led Delta with 14 points.
Nome 72, Houston 35
Klay Baker and Cass Mattheis combined for 39 points to help Nome blowout Houston 72-35. Eleven of Nome’s 12 players scored points.
The Nanooks scored 28 points off of Houston’s 30 turnovers.
Matthew Barron led paced Hawks with 19 points.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335
By MIKE NESPER