By Rick Atkinson


For the Anna-Melissa Tribune


After a nail-biter win at Anna in the district-opener, Melissa had an easier time with Sanger Jan. 21, strumming the mostly taller Indians 70-45 at Melissa Middle School.


Guards Justin Maina and Ezra Monroe poured in 19 points each the Cards, with Maina logging five three-pointers. Melissa guards Phoenix Bramhall and Hudson Czarnecki garnered nine points apiece, with Bramhall sinking three shots from beyond the arc.


“Defensively, in the second half I thought we really picked it up,” Cards head coach Eric Benton said.


“We didn’t change anything, Xs-and-Os-wise. I think our energy level and our attention to detail changed on that end of the floor and it made a big difference. It fueled our offense. We got out and ran a little bit and got some easy buckets in transition.


“Ezra was really good tonight and, I’ll be honest, this is probably the best game Justin has had all year long. He’s had really good games for us - he’s been really solid, really steady. Tonight was almost like a coming out party for him. He’s such a smart player, he makes great decisions. … When he starts making shots that brings a whole other element to us.


Melissa (2-0) surged to a 17-7 first-quarter lead, with Maina’s right-side three opening the contest and a Czarnecki right-corner trey ending the frame.


As the second stanza began, Sanger sank a right-corner 3 but Czarnecki answered back from the left corner for a 20-10 Cards lead. Bramhall then traded three-pointers with the Indians and Melissa’s advantage went to 23-15 with six minutes left in the half. Back-to-back Sanger layups cut the deficit to 24-19 before Bramhall took a pass from Monroe and canned another trey, this time from the right corner.


A four-point play for Sanger off a three-point-shot foul moved the Indians to within 27-23 as the half’s last minute ticked off. Melissa missed a put-back layup but soon got the ball back for a final shot before the break. After burning some clock, the Monroe found guard Daxx Dunnahoe in the right corner where he drained a three-pointer with three seconds to spare and Melissa had 30-23 breathing room at halftime.


Sanger charged out of the locker room with two quick buckets to trail, 30-27. The Cards clapped back as Tavenor Watts used the glass for a jumper from the lane and Maina drilled a left-corner three for a 35-27 lead.


The Indians got close a final time, 35-33, on consecutive close-range shots and a steal with a coast-to-coast layup. Out of Melissa’s ensuing timeout, the Cards went to work. Monroe drained two free throws and added back-to-back steals for a pair of layups. Maina then hit a right-corner three and, just like that, the lead was nine, 44-33.


“I think we’ve handled those moments pretty well all year long,” Benton said. “To see those guys do that in a district basketball game is really encouraging.”


Melissa’s advantage went to 13 on Maina’s next deep ball as the third quarter expired.


In the fourth, Monroe stopped-and-popped from the lane and the Cards led 50-38. Soon after Czarnecki’s big block near Sanger’s basket, Watts put back a layup and Maina notched his final trey as the rout rolled downhill 57-38.


On a fast-break with 3:30 to go, Bramhall passed behind his back to Monroe for a layup and Melissa led 59-40. Late treys by guard CJ Shellie and Dunnahoe added icing to the Red-Red cake.


At Aubrey Jan. 24, the Cards led by 12 points in the second half then hung on to win 45-41. Monroe and Czarnecki posted a team-high 12 points each as Melissa’s district mark moved to 3-0.


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Sanger 7 16 12 10 - 45


Melissa 17 13 18 22 - 70


Melissa scoring – Justin Maina 19, Ezra Monroe 19, Phoenix Bramhall, nine; Hudson Czarnecki, nine; Daxx Dunnahoe, six; Tavenor Watts, five; CJ Shellie, three. ____________________________________________________________


Melissa 8 12 16 9 - 45


Aubrey 6 11 8 16 - 41


Melissa scoring – Ezra Monroe 12, Hudson Czarnecki 12, Justin Maina, seven; CJ Shellie, six; Phoenix Bramhall, three; Skyler Smith, three; Tavenor Watts, two.


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Boys basketball standings


District 11-4A (as of Jan. 27)


Melissa 3-0


Celina 3-0


Aubrey 2-1


Sanger 1-2


Anna 0-3


Gainesville 0-3