Boone sweeps Westville in PCC twinbill
WESTVILLE -- In some ways, this season's Boone Grove boys basketball team has been years in the making.
"We've all played together, but it was through middle school, so we're still getting things all back together," Wolves guard Trey Steinhilber said. "It should be a good season once we get the flaws out of there."
A varsity contributor since he was a freshman, Steinhilber is the gem of a junior class that won the Porter County Conference at the JV level and lost just one game as sophomores. Now the balance of the group is charged with filling in the open spots around Steinhilber, the only player back with significant varsity mileage. "It was one of those things where it was a first game, but it was a first game after four-and-a-half weeks, so we were sloppy to say the least, but with a brand new team," coach Matt McKay said after a 60-46 win over Westville. "That was basically last year's JV game, and it kind of looked like it at the beginning."
Steinhilber performed as expected, scoring 19 points while running the offense, with Mason Bills (four 3s) showing he can stroke it from deep and Drew Murray (12 points and 18 rebounds) showing he can be a beast on the glass.
"I'm pretty happy with how hard we played and we made shots when we needed to," McKay said. "Trey got to the basket. Drew did a heck of a job on the boards. He's quick. Bills' first two (3s) in the second half were really big right out of the gate. We just couldn't pull away. (Westville coach) Drew (Eubank)'s doing a really good job with his youngsters. There's some talent there. They're only going to get better."
Bills went back-to-back from the arc after a Steinhilber triple as Boone quickly moved out to a 38-22 lead in the third.
"I've been working on my shot a lot in practice," said Bills, who played his first meaningful varsity minutes after seeing some modest action late last season. "I've been in a little bit of a slump. I couldn't really find it, but I tweaked some things and eventually found it. It came out pretty good." Westville, starting two freshmen (Kaden Pepper and Gavin Hannon), snuck within nine with a seven-point answer, but got no closer. "It's a big leap going from JV to varsity, or freshman to varsity, or eighth grade to varsity," Eubank said. "Considering all that, I thought the guys responded very well. I was very disappointed we didn't win the game, but the biggest thing was the effort was there for 32 minutes. When things got bad, they didn't stop doing what they were supposed to do and going off on their own. Down 16, it wasn't looking good, but we got it right back to (nine) and that was a really good stretch of basketball after we couldn't do anything for a while. The ball movement was really good, probably a lot better than what people have seen around here. We played free, which, with a young team, was a concern. We had a number of good looks that I think we'll hit with time." The Blackhawks just didn't have an answer inside for the bulky but active Murray, who ravenously consumed caroms, four of his hoops coming on putbacks. "Our rebounding was probably the difference in the game," Eubank said. "Part of that was because Boone Grove rebounded really well. They knew where we were at, size-wise, and crashed the boards. We didn't do a great job blocking out and they made it hard to block out. For being a guy you should be able to locate, (Murray)'s pretty slippery. I think he knows that's where he can make his hay. We talked a lot about how it's not necessarily the guy blocking out their best rebounder, we've got to have five guys going." Alec Hannon (15 points) and Julian Ellis (13) led the Blackhawks with Kenny Pepper nabbing eight boards. "It was good as a fan to see Trey looking like his old self," Eubank said. "Last year, it took him a while to get all the way back (from his knee injury). I've been impressed with him since he was a freshman. He's a junior, but he's played three years of varsity basketball. That'll be Gavin in a couple years. Alec did a great job asserting himself, being a senior, making plays. Julian did a great job the second half of changing the stuff that wasn't working in the first half. I thought Kaden handled himself well inside and we got some really good minutes from (Mark) Bohle off the bench." Lowell transfer Zach Lomalie was limited by early fouls in his debut Boone, which also played without its tallest player, 6-4 Jarrod Benkovich. "We're not real deep," McKay said. "Jarrod will take some of the load off Drew. He's pretty good defensively. He can guard guys facing the basket as well as inside. Zach's going to contribute, too. He's a pretty savvy kid." The game was the season opener for both teams, who have had several postponements over the first few weeks. "We just let the game come to us and just reacted off of it, got to the rim, got some draws and kick-outs," Steinhilber said. "I've been anxious for about four weeks, since Oregon-Davis cancelled (the scrimmage). It's awesome to get back out here."
Boone Grove coach Matt McKay talks to his team during a timeout Friday at Westville. The Wolves won their season opener 60-46.
While the boys were making their season debut, the Boone girls were getting back in the swing of things, playing their second game of the week after a 24-day layoff.
"I thought we played a little better. I'm hoping as we keep going, we'll start to flow a little better," coach Linda Eleftheri said. "I was just excited to get to play. If we're just able to do that, I think we'll keep getting better."
The Wolves (2-2) used a strong start, keyed by Alexus Ecklund's 13 first-half points that included three 3s and held off the Blackhawks (3-3) in a slow-paced second half to prevail 37-35.
The final score wasn't quite as suspenseful as it looked with Grace Weston's layup just before the buzzer narrowing the margin to two after a Jaci Menard free throw made it a two-possession game. Ecklund hit two foul shots on the prior possession after Ashley Hannon had pulled Westville within 34-31. The three freebies were Boone's only points of the fourth quarter, though the Blackhawks had just six in the methodical frame.
"I thought it helped us to bring them out and make them play us," Eleftheri said. "We still rushed some shots, but that's the first time a couple of them have had to do that."
Weston scored 13 points, but Boone's zone succeeded in keeping her from dictating the game. "I knew she's an excellent ball handler," Eleftheri said. "We wanted to play them in a zone just so she couldn't get in there. She still got in there a couple times and dumped it off. She is just so polished, such a good player. We tried to keep in front of her the whole night." Loreli Mallon added eight points for Westville and Karysa Alsup seven for Boone. "We take good shots, we're just not making them yet," Blackhawks coach Grayce Roach said. "I hope there's going to be a game when we hit 'em, but when we aren't hitting shots, the girls need to realize we need to take it in more. We're not penetrating against the zone at all. We're literally doing what they want us to do. We have young girls who are just a little timid. It's going to take some time. Patience is key. We've just got to learn how to stick it out in games like that. Our rebounding, our communication, we're just really short on rotating and digging deep and working as a team."