Christmas comes early for West Side: Players' returns from injuries boost Cougars
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
MICHIGAN CITY -- Christmas came early for West Side on Saturday, in the form of a tie-breaking basket and a blocked shot.
Chrishawn Christmas, a 6-foot-5 senior playing in just his second game since a season-ending knee injury last year, lifted the Cougars with big plays on both ends of the floor in the final minute of an intense 63-61 win over Michigan City.
"It felt real good being back, being able to help the guys get this win," said Christmas, who played restricted minutes in Tuesday's opener with Hammond Gavit, "just bringing more toughness to the court, being able to lead these guys on. I knew I had to be the one to step up. No one else out there was really stepping up. The team was down. I just bring energy to the court, that's what I do. I just locked in, got the steal and layup, and finished with that block." The game was tied at 61 after Quimari Peterson's fifth 3. City's Jamie Hodges, who put up 15 of his 30 points in an electric fourth quarter, launched a 30-footer at the other end, and Christmas came out of the pack off a long rebound to put the Cougars up with 12.7 seconds left. "Is that the best decision? No. Do you take some of that? You definitely take some of that," City coach Tom Wells said. "It's instinct, it's feel, so much of the time, so I'm not jumping down his throat. He's a warrior. It's great to have kids who want it at that time and he certainly does." The Wolves had two shots to tie or win. First, Christmas got a hand on a Hodges' left-wing 3, knocking it out of bounds with 2.7 seconds left. "I figured it was going to be either (Hodges or Tahari Watson)," Christmas said. "Jamie was making some tough shots, so I felt like it was going to be him. He had the confidence going." The ball came back to Hodges on the inbounds play and his triple try from the left baseline was short. "We really thought, if we get it to Jamie on the inbounds pass, they'd double, and we had Tahari stepping inbounds if they do," Wells said. "It just didn't pan out that way. The kid stayed home, that leaves Jamie by himself, and we're just going to play through that. It was the right read in that situation." Christmas had nine of his 11 points in the second half, adding three steals, three assists and six rebounds. "It felt real good, getting back out there, being able to see how it feels to be back in the game, being up and down the court," he said. "I know I still have a long way to go to back into playing shape. I missed a lot of bunnies down there at the beginning of the game. I'm just getting back used to making shots. I'm glad to be able to get these last two games out of the way." The wait had been even longer for Cougars junior Jalen Washington, who hadn't played his own knee injury as a freshman. "It was my first game in like two years. I'm just really happy to be back," he said. "I understand I'm still getting broken in and I'm just trying to get my feel back for the game." Washington had six points and eight rebounds in about a quarter-and-a-half of play, including a putback dunk on the heels of Christmas' tip slam to jump start West Side's fourth quarter. "I'm feeling pretty good, being on the court a lot more, having the confidence," Washington said. "I had missed a couple opportunities in the first half. Chrishawn, that's just what he does, he gives that burst of energy, so I was feeling good. I got the rebound, found the power in my legs, went back up and dunked."
Peterson paced the Cougars with 22 points to counter Hodges' hot hand, scoring 15 in the second half with four triples. "I just felt like I needed to do what I've got do to get my team the win," Peterson said. "(Hodges) was tough. We knew he was going to take the shots." City raced to a 23-11 lead and Hodges burst from the gate with a 10-point first quarter, but foul trouble blunted the Wolves' pressure defense, forcing them to go zone extensively. West Side feasted on the glass, more than doubling City in rebounds with 10 second-chance baskets. "The rebound thing is going to stick out, but the transition defense even bothers me more," Wells said. "They're going to get clean defensive rebounds. Quite often, those lead to outlets and they get going. They ran the floor very well, played downhill in transition a lot. That is on us, not getting them slowed, getting the ball stopped, getting a safety back. I also had no thoughts of playing 24, 25 minutes of zone either. All that does is slow the game down. We don't want that. We need to play man to man, get going up and down, and foul trouble didn't allow us to do that. All the smart people say they're the best team in northwest Indiana. Some smart people say they're top 20 in the country. Gosh, we're not bad. It's early December, and we have the ability to learn a lot from that."
Watson was the only other Wolves player in double figures. "They're a really talented team. They're going to be a tough out in the Duneland," West Side coach Chris Buggs said of MC. "(Hodges) made us question as coaches, are we doing the right thing playing zone? He was shooting from the hashmark. A lot of the guys have known him for a long time. He's got a bright future. He really tested us. He made some tough shots down the stretch. We played good defense, he hit a couple fadeaways off the dribble. He's a talented player." Buggs was most impressed with his team's resilience in a tight game. "We stuck together. That's the thing," he said. "I think we're older, I kind of expect them not to fold up down the stretch. Quimari's been with me for a long time. Those are things I expect from him. We didn't play like we should have played, we didn't play our best, but in those type of wins, going through adversity shows a lot of character about the team. I liked the fact we came into a tough environment pulled out a tough victory. This was a good test for us. We have to clean up some little things in practice and focus. I think this wakes us up. Offensively, we've got some firepower. Defensively, we have a long way to go." After holding the 6-9 Washington, a national recruit despite his limited high school play, to a couple minutes for three quarters, Buggs admitted to loosening his reins in the fourth. "Those guys probably played a little too many minutes," he said. "I'm just happy for those guys to get to play. People don't know all the work he puts in. I give credit to (Washington's) discipline and patience. says a lot about family. everybody kind of sticks with it. He's been nervous all week. He knew he was going to play. He was real emotional. I was excited to see him play. He didn't play his best but he stuck together. He got the little stuff. As he gets comfortable, get his legs under him, he's going to show what he can do. He's not in the greatest shape. He has a long way to go. There's a lot of basketball ahead." Washington called it a blessing to finally be back.
"I didn't even get to finish my first game so it's great to actually have a game under my belt," he said. "I'm just going to keep working hard, not let the end of this game fool us. We have to make sure we have a good start and a good finish." "There's a long way to go," Christmas added. "This ain't it. You're going to see us more."