By TERRY DUCKETT
Special to The Quincy Herald-Whig
EDGINGTON, Ill. -- As a youngster growing up in Knoxville, Ill., John Hughs had fond memories of watching Toby Whiteman light up the basketball court for the Blue Bullets.
But as the Illini West boys head coach, Hughs would have preferred not to have witnessed what Whiteman's Rockridge Rockets did to his club Friday night.
In a key early-season West Central Conference North Division matchup, Rockridge continued its dominating tear as the tandem of sophomore guard Bryan Heath and junior forward Ethan Happ combined for 49 points and 23 rebounds in a 62-42 victory over the Chargers.
"Yeah, he's got a pretty good team," Hughs said of Whiteman's Rockets, who are 7-0 and sit atop the WCC North standings at 3-0. "Early on, I thought we did a good job of running our stuff."
Indeed, the Chargers (2-1, 2-1 WCC North) had a chance to put Rockridge behind the 8-ball in the first quarter as both teams were struggling to find the mark offensively. The squads traded buckets, but a Heath three-point play late in the period gave the hosts a 13-6 lead and the momentum they needed.
"You've got to capitalize against good teams like Rockridge," said Hughs, whose club hit just three of 13 shots in the opening stanza. "Like I told our guys, good teams like that will expose the little things you didn't do. We didn't finish, and we gave up too many second-chance shots."
While the Chargers couldn't get untracked offensively, the duo of Heath and Happ were inflicting plenty of damage for Rockridge, ranked No. 6 in Class 2A. Heath hit on 10 of 15 shots to tally a game-high 26 points, adding five rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Happ powered his way to 23 points and 18 rebounds, his sixth double-double in seven games.
In fact, Happ's game-high 18 boards were more than the entire Illini West team combined. Eleven players hit the floor for the Chargers and totaled 16 rebounds, four of which came from senior guard Brody Gronewold, who also had a team-best 13 points.
"He's a tough kid to defend," Hughs said of Happ, "and Heath's also a good player."
After a 10-2 run helped stake Rockridge to a 29-15 halftime lead, the Rockets kept applying the pressure, going up by as many as 17 points before Illini West whittled it down to 44-30. But after the Chargers' Brayden Carroll bagged a trey to make it a 44-33 game, Illini West could get no closer.
However, Hughs feels Friday's setback won't be a long-term setback for his team, which set itself up to take the division lead after upending reigning conference champion Monmouth-Roseville 40-37 this past Tuesday.
"Our kids are building confidence," he stated. "A 20-point loss on the road to a team like Rockridge is nothing for us to shake our heads about."