Bulldogs 'Advance' to quarterfinals

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Willen nets 28 points in Notre Dame's 70-29 rout.

Notre Dame's Mark Himmelberg says he's glad fellow senior, 6-foot-8 Ryan Willen, is back in the lineup after the Bulldogs started the season 2-3 without him.

"I don't care what they say: size does matter," Himmelberg said, discussing Willen, a center who missed the first five games with a stress fracture in his ankle.

Willen showed Wednesday that he is quickly returning to old form.

The senior netted 28 points, including 13 first-quarter points, to lead the fifth-seeded Bulldogs past No. 12 Advance 70-29 in the first round of the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center.

Notre Dame's Blake Gaddis put up a shot against Advance in the second quarter Wednesday at the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament. (Fred Lynch)

Notre Dame (5-4) will face No. 4 Scott County Central today at 9 p.m.

Willen also played an important role on the Bulldogs' relentless press defense which forced 20 first-half turnovers.

The Hornets turned the basketball over 28 times total in a game which Notre Dame rested many of its starters for a good length of time in the second half.

Willen, who has signed to play basketball with Lafayette College next year, said he is happy to be back contributing.

Notre Dame is 3-1 with Willen, who is averaging 28.3 points per game in his four contests thus far.

"It's hard to watch, especially when the team is doing bad and to know that you could help," Willen said. "But getting back, it feels amazing. I'm just excited to play again."

Advance began strong in the opening minutes, taking a 2-0 lead on a jumper by David VanGennip. It then grabbed a 5-2 advantage on a 3-point basket by Jacob Bond with 5:25 remaining in the first quarter.

But Notre Dame went on a 23-2 run the rest of the period, highlighted by the Bulldogs' strong full-court defense which created fast-break opportunities -- and many of Willen's 13 points.

"They're fast and they're aggressive," Advance point guard Nate Middleton said about the Bulldogs' full-court pressure. "They just pressed a lot, and we couldn't pass it here today. It's really frustrating as a point guard. I couldn't do much about it. We tried to catch it in the middle of the press and we tried to penetrate. We couldn't do that."

Middleton added about Willen: "He's an awesome rebounder, he's good at defense, and he's all-around good."

The second quarter was much of the same with the Bulldogs outscoring Advance 22-10 and Willen pouring in seven points.

The Bulldogs went into halftime with a 30-point lead.

"Our guards create chaos," Willen said. "John Unterreiner and Nick Koeppel and Mark Himmelberg, and just everyone who plays guard, get their hands on passes and it makes it real easy. The interceptions that the second-line people get are all just tip passes. [Austin] Greer and I just pick up what they deflect. It makes it easy for us when the guards are getting up all after them."

Greer also had a strong performance, netting 12. He agrees with Himmelberg that Willen is an important key to the success of the team.

"Height matters," Greer said. "With him in the middle, he can pick off passes that the rest of us can't because he's 6-8. It's awesome to have him back. He's the best player in Missouri. He's the best player to play with. And I'm happy to play post with him."

Willen said it felt great to win the Christmas tourney his sophomore year. And he added that with he and Greer back, he thinks his team has a legitimate chance to go deep again thiss year. Greer also sat out the first few games with stress fractures in his back.

Willen said as the Bulldogs continue on this week, he'd like a shot at playing No. 1 Charleston, who beat the Bulldogs by 30 points in the SEMO Conference tournament earlier this year when Willen was sidelined.

"I don't think we'll surprise a lot of teams," Willen said. "I think a lot of teams know we were out early in the season but now we're back and we're almost at full strength. We've only got one more guy hurt [Ty Williams]. But I think a lot of teams know we're a lot better now than we were at the start of the season."

ADVANCE71093---29
NOTRE DAME2522185---70

ADVANCE (29)-- Luke Steil 8, David VanGennip 4, Cody VanGennip 2, Blake Lingle 2, Jacob Bond 12, Matt Ware 1. FG 13, FT 1-6, F 14 (3-pointers: Bond 2. Fouled out: none)

NOTRE DAME (70)-- Nick Koeppel 4, Trenton Vance 2, Alex Bader 4, Blake Gaddis 4, Mark Himmelberg 6, John Unterreiner 6, Austin Greer 12, Ryan Willen 28, Joseph Tolbert 3, Logan Glueck 1. FG 27, FT 14-21, F 9 (3-pointers: Himmelberg 1, Tolbert 1. Fouled out: none.)

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