|Sat, Apr 19, 2014 12:28 AM
January 22, 2014 | 02:13 PM
A simple message from coach to players worked out in the favor of North Harrison Friday night.
"If we played well defensively, we could win the game or have a chance to," is what North Harrison coach Greg Walters told the Cougars prior to taking the home floor against Eastern (Pekin).
The players gave their coach what he hoped for, holding the Musketeers to single digits in each of the first three quarters en rout to a 52-32 victory.
"I was proud of the kids and their effort," Walters said. "It doesn't mean anything if we can't do it again."
The message to keep the ball rolling was evident post-game, but the ability to turn in a stellar defensive effort happened a week ago.
Following a weekend split against Austin and Scottsburg, the emphasis in practice turned to the defensive end for the Cougars.
"We went back to fundamentals," Walters said. "The kids committed to defense. There were a couple of days in practice this week that the kids did nothing but play defense."
The attention to that side of the floor paid off, holding Eastern to its lowest scoring output of the year.
"The kids fought hard all week in practice," Walters said. "As a coach, you never know if a great week in practice is going to turn into a good game. I'm glad we got to play and the kids did well."
Austin Nolot had two steals in the opening quarter, part of five Musketeers' turnovers. His first steal was pushed ahead to Alex Flock whose bounce pass between defenders created a lay-in for Chandler Jenkins.
For the game, the Cougars forced 17 turnovers while out-rebounding Eastern by 20.
Strong defending in the opening quarter led to momentum on the other end. Flock and Nolot swished triples midway through the opening quarter to put the home team ahead 10-2.
The momentum continued with Cory Smith draining a bomb while Jenkins and Nolot put in buckets. Eastern was limited to two field goals in the first quarter, the last a 3-pointer by Dakota Snider. The trey cut a little into North Harrison's wide lead of 17-6 at the end of the opening quarter.
Growing the lead to 15 happened when Smith, after being rolled over on the defensive end, recovered to knock down a triple to make the score 25-10.
Rebounding was key for the Cougars as well. To end the half, Jenkins pulled down a defensive rebound and went coast to coast for a bucket. Flock led the team in rebounds with eight, while Gage Arnold and Jenkins had six each.
"If they can rebound, they can play," Walters said. "Alex Flock had eight rebounds at halftime. He has been getting to play because he rebounds the ball. Nolot has been our leading rebounder along with Chandler Jenkins. Those guys did a great job."
North Harrison opened the game up in the third quarter. The 28-14 halftime lead eventually grew to 42-20 after eight more minutes.
Nolot had a bucket to start, followed by stripping an Eastern player to provide an assist to Flock for a field goal.
Bringing a spark off the bench was Arnold in the third quarter. He had five of his six boards in the frame, along with four points. An offensive board led to a Cameron Mink 2-pointer then a dish to Dylan Knopp for a score.
"It was unselfish all the way around," Walters said. "The kids shared the ball on the offensive end. One thing we were doing early in the year was taking a lot of quick, bad shots. For the most part, we took a few but, all in all, we had much better shot selection."
Eastern's best run of play came at the start of the final quarter when Jude Olesh hit a triple then Alex Doebler scoring inside. The 5-0 Musketeers' run brought the visitors within 17 points, prompting a Walters time out.
Refocused, the Cougars returned to form and closed the final five minutes on a 10-7 run in a game that lasted a shade over an hour.
Jenkins led the Cougars in scoring with 13 points, followed by 10 from fellow sophomore Flock. Smith and Nolot had eight points each, and Knopp contributed seven.
"I don't care who scores and, as a team tonight, I don't think anyone cared," Walters said. "They moved the ball well to take advantage of mismatches we felt we could exploit."
As a team, the Cougars dished 14 assists on 21 made field goals.
Some of the improvements on defense to hold a Musketeers team that was scoring nearly 60 points per game to nearly half their average was emphasis on the basics.
"Being in the right spot, hands up, and guys like Alex Flock taking a charge for us, he played awesome tonight," Walters said of the defense. "We got some guys coming out of injuries, like Chandler Jenkins, who played a great game, too ... (Eastern) has great shooters that like to play drive and kick. We tried to guard our man straight up with a little bit of help."
Olesh was the top scorer for the Musketeers, tallying eight points, while Jack Hayes had seven.
North Harrison will face a pair of road tests this weekend. On Friday, the Cougars will play at Lanesville (7:30 p.m.) then on Saturday they return to MSC action, traveling to Salem (7:30 p.m.).
Eastern (Pekin) 6 8 6 12 – 32
North Harrison 17 11 14 10 – 52
Eastern (Pekin) (2-8, 0-5 MSC) – Olesh 8, Hayes 7, Murphy 5, Doebler 4, Snider 4, Newcomb 3, Timmons 1.
North Harrison (4-6, 2-4) – Jenkins 13, Flock 10, Smith 8, Nolot 8, Knopp 7, Arnold 4, Mink 2.
3-point goals – Eastern (Pekin) 5 (Olesh, Murphy, Doebler, Snider, Newcomb); North Harrison 4 (Smith 2, Flock, Nolot).