Davenport digs down

Gorillas use motivation to hold off Eagles

Davenport coach Tim Zeiler has been warning his players all season long that survival in the boys State 2B basketball tournament doesn’t get any easier the second time around.

Any doubters there might have been on Zeiler’s senior-laden roster were undoubtedly convinced of that fact Wednesday afternoon at the Arena, when Life Christian Academy used its speed and athleticism to torture the favored Gorillas for the better part of four quarters before dropping the opening-round showdown 61-54.

The Eagles were the aggressors from the opening tip and compensated for their dramatic size disadvantage by beating the Gorillas to nearly every loose ball and forcing 15 turnovers from their full-court defensive pressure. They led by as many as eight points late in the first half and were still within a point at 55-54 with 41 seconds left in the game.

“They were a lot better than I expected, and a lot better than anyone on our team expected,” said Jarod Gunning, the Gorillas’ standout senior guard, who had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in the victory. “We’ve played more inside-oriented teams before, and teams that were a lot taller. But for pure speed, they were the fastest team I’ve ever played against.

“They came out and hit us in the mouth, and we weren’t expecting that.”

Still, it was Davenport’s tournament savvy and late-game poise that ultimately made the difference as the Gorillas closed the game with six unanswered points to make the final score deceiving.

“I told our kids the first game in this thing is always the hardest,” Zeiler said. “And, my goodness, when it takes you as long to get back to state as it did us last year, we can’t take anything for granted.”

The Gorillas were the feel-good story at last year’s tournament when, after making the elite field for the first time in 23 years, they advanced to title game before losing to unbeaten Bi-County League rival Northwest Christian 54-39.

Now Zeiler is hoping to use the disappointment of that defeat to motivate his team in its quest to make another deep run in the tournament.

“I kept telling our kids to remember how they ended the season last year and to let that be our driving force,” Zeiler said. “We came out of tough league, again, where some great teams were left at home, and that humbles us.

“We’re not assuming anything is going to be easy.”

But the Gorillas remain on a mission after experiencing so much tournament success last winter.

“We set one of our goals to make it to state again,” Gunning said, “but everyone knows deep down inside that we only have one real goal – and that’s to win the gold ball (championship trophy).

“Anything less than that will be a huge disappointment.”

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