JEFFERSON CITY — For both teams in Wednesday night's Class 2 sectional playoff basketball game, tempo was key.
Fr. Tolton Catholic Regional High School plays with a fast pace. Tolton's opponent, Linn High School, slows things down and uses their size advantage on both ends of the floor.
In this encounter, Tolton's speed was too much for their opponents. The Trailblazers (20-7) controlled the pace of the game in a dominating performance and beat Linn (16-12) easily, 69-49.
It wasn't just Tolton's pace on offense, however, that led to their domination.
“I felt like we guarded well,” Tolton head coach Tyler Clark said. “I’ve been telling our guys, playoff basketball is about making them make tough shots.”
Perhaps familiarity with their opponents also helped the Trailblazers' cause as it wasn’t the first time this season these two teams had met. Tolton beat Linn handily 75-59 in the first round of the Southern Boone Class tournament earlier in the season.
Clark said the two games were very similar, but that the crowd was better in this one.
Michael Porter Jr., who scored 29 points, also said it was the loudest crowd the team has played with this year. Porter is the highest scoring freshman in the history of the state.
Despite their commanding performance, Tolton had some big game jitters to shake off in the opening minutes. The Trailblazers missed their first five shots but only allowed Linn to score once during that stretch.
Tolton warmed up and put together a 10-2 run through the middle of the first quarter. Linn went more than four minutes without a field goal during that time.
By the middle of the second quarter, Tolton had extended its run to 20-4, and Linn did not score until more than four minutes into the second quarter.
Tolton players grabbed more rebounds, steals and loose balls than their opposition, but the Trailblazers had a better field goal and free throw percentages. And, as has been the case many times this season, no one could stop Porter.
Brennan Church added another 14 for Tolton.
Tolton led Linn 32-13 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Linn tried a new tactic. The Wildcats started subbing five players at a time in an unsuccessful attempt to keep pace with Tolton. Tolton, on the other hand, didn’t change a thing and lead by as many as 21 points.
Linn strung together its only run of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Wildcats pulled within 14.
“It was called tight, but it was consistent,” Clark said of the officiating for the game. “It was called a little tighter than I like.”
In the end, the officiating wouldn’t matter.
Porter put the final exclamation point on the victory with one minute remaining. He took off from the middle of the lane and threw down a two handed slam for his final points of the night that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Porter didn’t realize how far away from the basketball he was when he went up for the dunk.
“We had to get to the hole, and I just drove and it was open,” Porter said with a grin creeping up on his face. “So I dunked it.”
Tolton will play at Moberly Area Community College at 1:45 p.m. Saturday against Canton (26-1) for its quarterfinal game.