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Spartans show off their balance

By Pat Ruff

pruff@postbulletin.com

The Rochester Mayo boys basketball team has high expectations for itself. So do the state’s basketball experts, as Mayo starts this season ranked 10th in Class AAAA.

Thursday night the Spartans gave a glimpse of why this truly could — actually, make that should — be a special year. They also showed that they’ve still got plenty of work to do.

All of that was on display in Mayo’s 67-54 win over Rochester John Marshall at a packed McNish Gymnasium, in the season-opener.

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Mayo hinted early that this thing would turn into a blowout as it built a quick 16-4 lead. On a team with the well-known two-headed monster of Division I recruits Lucas Kuipers (6-foot-8) and Jordan Hicks (6-6), the Spartans showed all game that they are more than just those two. But they especially did it early, with a whole lot of scoring punch coming from 6-1 guard Alex Benson and 6-3 forward Hal Sundt.

Benson had seven of his 10 points in the first half, while Sundt had six of his eight. Hicks also had plenty to say about a first half that ended 40-24 in Mayo’s favor, with 13 of his 17 points, including three ferocious dunks.

But it was that balance throughout its lineup that has Mayo so excited about its potential. That big halftime lead was made with Kuipers scoring just six of his game-high 19 points.

"I feel like we are a lot more diverse offensively this year, and I think that will have a really positive effect because it’s going to open things up for all of us," Kuipers said.

Things sure did open up for Kuipers in the second half. He mostly took his scoring into his own hands, tipping in several missed shots.

However, JM not only didn’t allow itself to get buried, it actually made a game of it in the second half. Not bad for a team bringing back just one starter, and leaning on such players as 5-6 sophomore point guard Jordan Stokes.

The Rockets, partly taking advantage of some intermittently slack defense by Mayo and some carelessness by it offensively in the second half, trailed 64-54 with just over a minute left.

"We need to work on our defense," Mayo coach Shaun Lang said. "We need to play strong defense from the start of the game to the finish."

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Mayo was able to recover and put things away, but JM felt good about its performance.

"We take a lot of positives away from this game," said JM coach Eric Plitzuweit, whose team hung around despite committing 31 turnovers. "I feel like we kind of matured from one half to the next."

Justin Behnke led JM with 15 points. Senior Dan Wacholz and Stokes each had nine points.

Game summary, photos, C7

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