Welcome to the week of Covid. There may have been more cancellations, postponements and quarantines than any other week of this school year, let alone basketball season. Because of that, there wasn’t much traction to be gained which leads us to a combined column heading into the holidays.
This week we will talk boys and girls hoops in one compact column.
CHAMPIONS OF CHARACTER CLASSIC
We will take on a separate section here for Saturday’s slate of games. Five games were played on the campus of Grace College, featuring six area teams. It was a great day of games, some that stayed close throughout, some that started close and ended more comfortably for the winning team and some that just opened up wide early.
• Start with the first game of the day and Snider‘s incredible effort to nearly knock off South Bend Riley and Notre Dame commit Blake Wesley. This one was tight nearly the entire way with both teams making surges that never let the other get comfortable with any lead. After Karson Jenkins missed the first of two free throws with 37.2 seconds left in regulation, the door was wide open for SB Riley in a 70-70 game.
Then Jade Moore stood out. He had a fantastic day anyway, but as SB Riley held the ball in the hands of their top player, Moore held strong. You don’t want to say anything overshadowed Moore’s 24 point, four rebound, three steal game but this last possession spoke volumes about Moore and Snider. Everyone knew who would have the ball, knew what was going to happen and Moore absolutely smothered Wesley’s attempt to win the game.
Although Snider would go on to lose 79-75 in overtime, it takes enhanced maturity and will to close out a major possession the way that Moore and the Panthers did. We’ve seen how good this group is with minimal varsity experience. And they don’t want the loss on the scoreboard, but this was an absolute win in terms of Snider again flexing how good they really are this season with such a young squad.
“That’s all they know. It’s been established since they got here and are setting their own standards of excellence,” Snider coach Jeremy Rauch said of his team’s fight. “We know we can be a really good team and we’ve bought in that it takes tremendous work ethic and togetherness. They make coaching fun and we know that we are two stops away from being 6-0 in a brutal opening stretch, given the lack of varsity experience.”
• Leo kept their unbeaten season alive Saturday by using a strong second half to plow by Shenandoah, a team highly regarded as a possible state contender in Class 2A. The final stat line says that the Lions grabbed just nine offensive rebounds, but it felt so much heavier. DJ Allen, Blake Davison and Xavier Middleton were all over the place getting the Lions second chances and it was clearly frustrating Shenandoah after Leo themselves had started slow.
Allen continues to show great strength, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds on 9 of 13 shooting. Allen produced time after time on Saturday, getting out in transition for baskets and then, in the half court, pinning his defender below the block for teammates to lob it into him. Leo pushed their lead to six in a close game with 1:21 left in the third when Allen stole the ball and took it one on one in transition, bodying his way though a defender for the basket.
“He’s slowing the game down in his mind. He has had a tendency to rush things and we are seeing him mature in that area. DJ has a relentless motor and that is his greatest asset. He never gives up on a play,” Leo coach Cary Cogdell said. “We talk often about when is the time to go quick and when is the time to be patient. He’s really starting to understand it.”
Another lift for the Lions was the return of Eric Steger, who may or may not be 100 percent after dealing with injury. Never the less, he came in quickly off the bench and made an instant impact. He played over 17 minutes, hit a couple of big momentum shots and was a glue guy for the Lions. Steger’s three pointer to beat the third quarter buzzer put the Lions up 40-35 and they never really looked back or let the game get close after.
“Eric is a good defender, good shooter and a good team guy,” Cogdell said. “He will do whatever is needed for us to win. He’s not 100% yet with his knee but he dove on the floor and made a great play…and attempted to take a charge. His presence really gave us a lift.”
• Central Noble, Warsaw and Homestead locked up wins in the last three games of the day, making the area teams 4-2 on the afternoon.
The Cougars just steamed ahead early against DeKalb with Sawyer Yoder playing some of his best basketball of the still young season. The Central Noble senior locked down DeKalb’s Cole Richmond with Richmond coming off a career game the night before. Richmond only was able to fire off two shots in the loss to Central Noble while Yoder finished with 10 points. Connor Essegian scored 32 and is now likely just one game away from becoming the program’s all-time scoring leader as a junior, looking to break Mike Young‘s 43 year old mark.
Warsaw used a solid third quarter to position themselves ahead of Portage. The Tigers ended up shooting 52.2 percent from the field in the second half and Portage had zero answer for that kind of consistency as they stalled on their own offensive end. Jaxson Gould hit 7 of his 11 shots to lead Warsaw. The Tigers scored 36 of their 48 points in the paint, holding Portage just eight points in the paint. And that’s about all you need to know about that: Warsaw took control close to the rim and Portage struggled to get within range.
Homestead‘s first half flurry just absolutely steamrolled South Bend St. Joe with the Spartans going up 47-14 by halftime, thanks in large part to Fletcher Loyer‘s five first half three-pointers. Loyer led Homestead with 23 points while Luke Goode finished with 17, giving coach Chris Johnson a 71-46 win over brother Mark. The biggest question for Homestead out of this one is the health of Andrew Leeper, who left the game at halftime with an injury with 12 points.
• Probably don’t quite sleep yet on the Bishop Dwenger boys. It feels like we always get a late start talking about the Saints because they don’t play until mid-December yearly due to how they lay out their schedule. But save for that season opening loss to Homestead, the Saints have played very strong basketball out of the gate. It has them at 2-2 after beating DeKalb and Concordia this week. They dropped their second game on Saturday by losing 69-66 to Marion, but there is zero shame in giving the Giants that kind of game at Marion; a place that is notoriously hard to play at, let alone win at.
Brenden Lytle shook off a slow start to half 18 points, six assists and five steals on Concordia on Friday. And the Saints are going to go often how their senior leader goes. They can go nine guys deep pretty comfortably and are already showing signs of being another high work rate Dwenger team.
One of the best plays on Friday night in the win over Concordia came on a Xavier Nolan behind the back flip pass to save the ball going out of bounds. Those kind of hustle plays are what will continue to help set the Saints apart.
On Saturday, CJ Pieper scored 20 points with eight rebounds while Owen Shively scored 18.
• The South Side girls are about the most even keel team on the girls side right now. After a fiery start, they got cooled down by one of those forced breaks but have now won five of six. They are sitting at 7-1 but it has been a bit quiet for them. But quite why?
The SAC is wide open for the first time in years and the Archers are poised to pounce in this situation. But instead of shouting it from the rooftops, the Archers are quietly piecing together one of their best seasons with their best start since 2017; you know, the year they won the Holiday Tournament and a sectional title.
So why aren’t more people talking about the Archers’ ability to clinically dismantle teams? They have all of the elements they want to have and while people are focused elsewhere, South Side is polishing those assets. Friday’s win over Northrop is a prime example. It didn’t get a lot of hype, yet the Archers put back the Bruins with 18-7 and 19-4 quarters by hitting them from all directions. Four different Archers scored in double figures and Lamyia Woodson pulled down 18 rebounds while blocking seven shots.
We talk almost weekly about a team somewhere that isn’t being given enough love and put South Side in that picture. The Archers are a very dangerous team and the proved it again on Saturday by beating fellow one-loss Jay County. In that Saturday game, Olivia Smith took the lead with 17 points, including hitting 4-of-8 triples.
• The DeKalb boys ended a 20 day mark without games by playing three this week, going 1-2 in the process. The Barons beat Northrop in a great game the night before Thanksgiving and then the quarantine bug bit and put them out of action.
On Friday, Cole Richmond had a career performance but scoring 31 points despite only hitting one three pointer. That says this: he’s a sharpshooter that has so much more to offer in his game. He attacked the basket against Norwell, got to the foul line often and just took care of business. Although both Richmond and DeKalb got stymied the next day (see above), this kind of performance speaks volumes to where the Barons can play at in the NE8.
Connor Penrod also continues his solid play in wins and losses alike. He is a constant force at and around the rim. He had 18 points in the loss to Bishop Dwenger, 15 points and seven rebounds in the win over Norwell and 19 points in the loss to Central Noble. Penrod can really do everything he does no matter the opponent.
• Don’t look now, but the New Haven boys are back. After a physical winning affair on Wednesday against the aggressive Wayne Generals, the Bulldogs stampeded past Adams Central on Friday. Now they have to face the task of not cooling off before their next appearance, with no regular season game until January 5.
The stat line against Wayne read about how you’d expect if you just watched the game and didn’t keep track of anything. The Bulldogs just worked hard in every aspect of the game and everybody did everything. To compete with that kind of consistent energy and flow is very hard and the Generals found that out first hand. And if you didn’t see the game, you can know about it by seeing a stat line that had Jakar Williams (17 points, 12 rebounds) just four assists shy of a triple double while Dre Wright posted 16 points, eight rebounds and Thomas Latham (dunk time and all) finished 16 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
Their Friday win was domination front to back with their 19 point fourth quarter being their worst. Jackson Turnwald scored 20 and everybody got into in on both ends of the floor. Highlights of that one included four very loud blocked shots from Latham.
The break for New Haven here is substantial but with a heavy NE8 schedule ahead, the Bulldogs are going to be leaving 2020 as one of the more intriguing teams, which says a lot after big losses opened their season against the area’s best two teams.
• Quiet on the radar so far has been the Huntington North girls. But after a two win week and four straight wins, they are above .500 and sit as one of two NE8 girls teams that are 2-0 in conference play. The Vikings are hitting their stride not just on their well established defense, but by averaging seven more points per game than they did last season.
Taylor Double has rekindled her aggression, scoring 16 in a win Thursday over Bishop Dwenger and then 21 to beat Leo on Saturday in a conference game. The sophomore established last season that she can be a catalyst for big scoring moments for the Vikings and she picked Leo apart on Saturday, hitting four threes and scoring 18 of the 26 points Huntington North scored between the second and third quarters.
Grace Sell became another face to focus on in the Huntington North lineup in the win over Bishop Dwenger. She scored 18 points, hitting four threes of her own in that one. A feisty first quarter saw Sell score 11 points and really set a tone that the Vikings were ready to go toe-to-toe with the Saints.
• Is it possible that we haven’t seen the effects of quarantine hit a conference as hard as it has the ACAC?
Sure lost games hurt. Woodlan boys are currently quarantined due to contact tracing and Heritage boys spent the first weeks of the season in the same boat. But what happens when the rust sets in after not being able to play or losing a top player?
The Woodlan girls, the defending ACAC champions, returned Saturday after a two week absence and dropped a tough conference game to a feisty, but young Heritage team. South Adams, arguably the preseason favorite on the boys side, opened up conference play without top player James Arnold, and lost to a – you got it – feisty, but young Heritage team. South Adams, with a late start because of football, is now 0-3 playing every game without Arnold in the lineup. Not playing at full strength is a new reality that we all hope is just for this season.
But in a conference where you only get six games to vie for a title, one loss is certainly a big hurt.
• Now let me say, the above was to take ZERO away from either Heritage team, both who have positioned themselves very well in the last seven days.
The Heritage girls now sits at nine wins and after a disappointing loss to Fremont, their win over Woodlan on Saturday was massive. They had lost five straight regular season games against the Warriors and beating them on Saturday make Heritage a perfect 3-0 in conference. Again, in a six conference game schedule, wins are huge so to be 3-0 is very nice for the Patriots.
Ella Bickel hit six three pointers in the win over Woodlan, finishing with 24 points while plenty of others from this diverse lineup chipped in.
The Patriot boys had a two win week and came just shy of making it three wins with a one point loss to Norwell on Saturday. Just for measurement, Luke Saylor‘s 18 points on Saturday was on the very low side for him this week. He torched South Adams for 39 points and 11 rebounds on Friday in a follow up to his 30 point, 10 rebound, six steal game against Fremont where he scored 23 second half points. If you don’t know about Saylor yet, then get on a stream and check him out. Just a sophomore, he has established that he is, right now, one of the best players in the ACAC.
Dalton Wasson also continues his consistency for the Patriots as a number two option. Heritage has improved greatly already this season and maybe their initial layoff was actually for the best for them.
• Never count out the Churubusco boys. South Side got to learn that lesson on Tuesday as Busco rallied from down nine with around two minutes to play, scored the first seven points of an overtime session and then ultimately took home the win.
The furious rally showed the highs that the Eagles can reach when they are really zeroed in on a task. Jackson Paul hit a big shot in the closing moments and Landen Jordan was a monster, as usual, on the glass, but everyone chipped in. On ball steals from freshmen Andrew Pliett and Ayden White were huge in the furious comeback of the closing minutes.
Equally important in this one, as it will continue to be for this team of just seven varsity players, is the focus of Jordan, Paul and Luke McClure when in foul trouble. The senior trio is a passionate bunch that did a fantastic job of not letting frustration set in on foul calls. The three finished the game with four fouls each but stayed disciplined and didn’t let things get out of control in a high paced game. While the freshmen at Churubusco are coming along quickly by necessity, these three seniors have to stay in every game.
• The West Noble girls are the real deal and are one of four teams that see this week come to a close with a 4-0 record in the conference. We knew that this team was a solid with returners like Lilly Mast, but they’ve become more than that by having more players than that step up big.
The launched themselves by the very inexperienced Whitko on Tuesday behind 20 points from Mackensy Mabie and all nine West Noble players scored. The Chargers scored 20-plus points in each of the first three quarters.
The bigger win though was their 49-32 win over county rivals Central Noble on Friday and trust me when I say the Cougars are no slouches. It was Mast leading the way with 20 points in that win while Mabie scored 13 by going 8-of-8 from the free throw line; the Chargers went 86 percent from the line in the win.
The win over Central Noble is West Noble’s first against the Cougars since the 2015 NECC Tournament. That is seven straight losses overall to Central Noble with West Noble’s last regular season win against them coming in 2014.
• So who do you leave Saturday more interested in: Eastside girls or Lakeland girls? On one hand, you have an Eastside team that is up and down and has been throughout the season. The Blazers put an early six point deficit behind them to go on an 8-2 run to end the first quarter with a lead. Eastside went on a 17-8 run in the first half and held leading Lakeland scorer Bailey Hartsough scoreless in the first 16 minutes.
On that other hand, you have a 4-0 in conference Laker team that has nine wins overall after Saturday’s ultimate victory. They rallied back from deficits and a really stellar Eastside defense. The Lakers are one of the best area teams and that is showcased by them never actually being out of this one. After scoring just 20 points in the first half, the Lakers scored 39 in the second half and won this game by 17.
Feith Riehl led all scorers with 30 for the Lakers. Another reminder: Bailey Hartsough is very good, but Lakeland is far from a one player squad.
Snider scored 100 points against North Side on Friday. It marks the third straight season that Snider has reached 100 points in a game and fourth of the last five seasons, all under coach Jeremy Rauch. Snider scored over 100 just once in the six seasons prior to Rauch’s arrival….Record watch: Even though Woodlan will be out a couple of weeks on the boys side, junior Joe Reidy now 480 points from Lloy Ball‘s school scoring record, something that could be in reach by year’s end….North Side‘s Jordan Green scored a career high 33 points Friday in a loss to Snider….South Side‘s Ashton Johnson took four charges on Friday in a win over Northrop….Benton Buck Connor Wright scored his 1,000th career point on Friday with 22 points against Anderson….Blackhawk Christian girls’ win over Canterbury Friday, their 12th, guarantees them at worst their third best win total in the past 20 seasons.
Remember to vote in both of this week’s Performance of the Week polls. Both of these polls will close on Tuesday, December 22 at noon.
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