Balanced River Forest gives Thompson a win in his varsity coaching debut
LACROSSE -- You play like you practice.
For River Forest, that was a good thing in Wednesday's season opener.
"We have some heated scrimmages in practices," Ingots coach Rodney Thompson said after a 59-48 victory in his debut. "You work for the starting spot. We're pretty deep. We have 14 guys and all 14 can play. There were still a couple I didn't get in. I thought we'd have well-rounded scoring. That's how we hope to be throughout the season."
While Ben Garwood and Kyle Gorski racked up 36 points between them for LaCrosse, RF had nine players score, five of them between eight and 11 points to more than balance out the Tigers duo.
"We all work hard. We're always hustling. When we get tired, we can sub each other out," said Tony Franco, who notched 10. "We're not selfish. We play as a group. We all know how to play. We all can play together." Balance wasn't the only plus for River, which dominated the offensive glass and turned over LaCrosse frequently.
"That was our biggest issue last year," Tigers coach Preston Frame said. "Rebounding's been a big emphasis. We have to rebound the ball. You take away the second-chance points, we're right there." LaCrosse jumped out 6-2 but a 23-3 RF run and the Ingots were never seriously challenged.
"We're not tall, but we have length," Thompson said. "They're able to get in passing lanes and make it difficult for people. We brought a lot of pressure. We fouled, but it was worth the turnovers and steals we caused by doing that." Sophomore Kobe Galligan topped River with 11 points and three 3s. Curtis Hosea scored nine, while Savon Harding and Dennis Hurn had eight.
"We had some guys who left the team last year, so some younger guys stepped up and played a lot," Thompson said. "That's helping them this year."
LaCrosse trailed 53-32 early in the fourth quarter before Garwood and Gorski carried the Tigers on a 16-4 surge that whittled the final margin. Garwood was 7-of-8 from the field in the second half and Gorski 4-of-6, almost all of their production coming at the rim. "(Garwood) was tough and (Gorski) was lightning," Thompson said. "He's almost un-guardable."
But inexperience showed for LaCrosse, which managed just 11 points outside of Garwood and Gorski. "Our guys never quit," Frame said. "Ben wasn't shooting well (outside), so we told him get yourself going by getting to the basket, then work your way inside-out. He's tough to stop on the drive. Kyle played the whole game, he's handling the ball, he's exhausted, and he still gave us 16. I was impressed with that. We've still got to get him under control. You get sped up, you've got to find times to get focused on the floor. That comes with experience, playing against pressure." The game marked the varsity debut for Thompson, who has been teaching in the River Forest system for 25 years, coaching middle school along with some stints as a varsity assistant. "I'm new here, but not new to them," he said. "I've coached many of them at the middle school. They're really good kids. They work hard." Franco was among those who played for Thompson. "I had him as a teacher and a coach," he said. "It's refreshing, exciting, something new."