To ensure it would have a holly jolly Christmas, the Quincy University men's basketball players first had to reprise the role of the Grinch.
The Hawks wanted to steal MacMurray's spirit.
Although the Highlanders showed some spunk in the second half Tuesday night, the Hawks broke their will with defensive intensity and the ability to pound the ball inside during an 83-50 victory at Pepsi Arena. The Hawks scored 24 points off 20 Highlanders turnovers and had a 42-24 advantage in points in the paint.
"It's a big momentum thing for us," said sophomore forward Tanner Stuckman, who had 13 points and a team-leading eight rebounds. "We were stressing before this game that we had to come out and play really hard. That was the emphasis. We were focused on us and what we had to do. The biggest thing was to come out and play harder than they did."
That was crucial on the defensive end.
The Hawks had lost two games last weekend in the QU/Subway Holiday Classic in which defensive effort waned at times, and they had to prove there'd be letdowns. The Highlanders shot just 36.4 percent from the field in the first half and just 42 percent for the game, while shooting 25 percent from 3-point range. Quincy's lead never dipped below 14 points in the second half.
"Now we know we can do it," Stuckman said. "Now going into conference play and even against St. Louis College of Pharmacy in our first game back, we have to implement that intensity and carry it over."
Stringing consistent defensive efforts together is a must.
"We don't want to be a team that brings that effort once every four games," QU coach Ryan Hellenthal said. "We want to be a team that does it consistently. That's our challenge."
Throw the ball inside
Quincy's first two shots -- both missed by the way -- were from the 3-point stripe. Once the Hawks remembered they had a sizable advantage inside, they poured the ball into the paint. The starting frontcourt of 6-foot-7 Marcus Hinton, 6-7 Aziz Fadika and the 6-9 Stuckman combined to go 12 of 14 inside the arc as the Hawks shot 63.9 percent from two-point range.
"That was our game plan," Stuckman said.
It didn't really work the way they hoped until Paulo Camilo subbed into the game with the Hawks leading 7-6 and a little more than 14 minutes remaining in the first half. The 6-7 senior forward caught the ball on the left block on his first two possessions and powered his way to the rim for easy layins as the Hawks slowly started to impose their will.
"Paulo gave us a little boost when we were struggling early in the game," Stuckman said. "He did fantastic. So did Aziz. We work on it all the time in practice, pounding the ball inside and then working on those moves."
Camilo finished 4 of 4 from the field with a career-high nine points.
"I told the guys in the locker room that he was my player of the game," Hellenthal said. "Not because he some baskets, but he rebounded the ball and gave us great energy when we were lacking energy. It was good to see that kid have success."
Camilo's presence helped the Hawks own a 39-28 advantage on the boards.
"We knew we had bog bodies in there, so we had to use it," Camilo said. "Play inside out. That's the way to win."
Quality entry passes helped.
"We played together and we shared the ball," Camilo said. "Everybody played and we were happy."
It set the right tone for a seven-day break. The Hawks return to Quincy after Christmas and will face St. Louis College of Pharmacy on Dec. 30 before jumping into Great Lakes Valley Conference play Jan. 3 at Indianapolis.
"We got to get some rest but keep working over break," Camilo said. "We have a tough schedule coming back, so it's good to get a rest. But you have to keep working."
That's the message Hellenthal sent to his team before leaving for break.
"With what's ahead, we have some real challenges," Hellenthal said. "But I think going into break this group has the right attitude. These next two weeks are a perfect opportunity for us to get better."