City gets its groove back: Hodges Jr. returns, Wolves edge Ross, Lake Central
MICHIGAN CITY -- There's just a vibe about Michigan City when Jamie Hodges, Jr., is on the floor that's missing when the Wolves elite sophomore guard doesn't play.
"It was different playing without your point guard, the person that's your leading scorer, too," teammate Omarion Hatch said. "We just really needed him. We play different when we're with him, too."
Some of the swag, the controlled chaos, the borderline frenzy that City has lacked in his recent absence was back Friday against Lake Central, and the Wolves (12-6, 3-3 Duneland Conference) needed every bit of it to pull out a 63-62 thriller.
"That's the difference between the good ones and the great ones," MC coach Tom Wells said. "The great ones makes their teammates better. There's no doubt. It's still not there (100 percent), he just gives us so much energy. He's such a good passer. He gets in spots, you think he's in trouble and he comes out smelling like a rose."
Hodges had a modest (by his standards) 12 points, but his presence was a lift for Hatch and Evan Bush (20 points each).
"Omarion's another guy that feeds off Jamie," Wells said. "The ball doesn't have to be in Omarion's hands. He's off the ball more than he has been. It was good to get things happening for Evan. He's not had a good 2021 so far. We kept saying that in the first half, hey, the tempo's good. We go to the fourth quarter, we've got all five timeouts left, that's for a reason. We don't want the game to stop."
Hatch helped City keep pace early with 10 points in the first quarter, when L.C. hit 9-of-10 shots and all four 3s, led by 6-foot-7 Kyle Ross' 12 points.
The Indians (12-7, 3-3) led 33-28 at the half.
"They're an awfully good team, but I thought our height was negated with how the game was called," Lake Central coach Dave Milausnic said. "We had two free throws in the first half, and we were feeding the post, penetrating. We managed to get them to turn the ball over, too."
The Wolves caught fire from the arc in a back-and-forth third quarter with five treys, two each by Hatch and Tahari Watson.
"My teammates were getting me open, I was just making sure I was ready to shoot, spot up, be confident," Hatch said.
City edged in front on a Bush steal/dunk, then a Bush layup off a Gio Laurent steal and long outlet pass.
"That little stretch, we were just down," Bush said. "During practice, we got our heads right, got our energy back, and came to this game ready. It was fun to get loose, to get out and run, to play how we started the season off; 84 Fast. I'm just out there having fun with my brothers, doing the thing I love."
The Wolves ran out to leads of eight and nine early in the fourth. It was a sequence in which Hodges lobbed twice to the high-flying Warren Sails, who steered one in from high above the rim and slammed the other, and converted an and-one off a twisting scoop in traffic.
"Warren provides us that (spark), too," Wells said. "He's giving us minutes, Gio's giving us minutes, just enough to give those guys a break. The rotation's shrunk a little bit, but it always happens in February."
L.C. chipped away at the deficit, pulling within 61-59 at the 27.4-second mark and missed a chance to tie on Myles Yekich's runner in the lane. After Bush free throws made the margin four with 13.4 left, Ross hit a deep contested triple to make it a one-point game, but the Indians had no timeouts left and the Wolves never even touched the ball as the clock ran out.
"It was just a heads up play, being aware," Wells said. "If they were on the dribble, we were going to foul, but they passed it across. Now I'm thinking, oh, don't foul a 3-point shooter. That ball's got to go out in the lobby. It can't be on the wood somewhere."
After the Ross shot, L.C. purposely threw the ball away in hopes of drawing a delay of game warning to stop the clock.
"It went all the way to the bleachers, like 20 feet," Milausnic said. "It could be nine seconds (left) if the guy doesn't have the ball and the count doesn't start. It was a textbook delay of game, but it shouldn't have come down to that. My kids battled. When they're all healthy, that's a team that can make a run. We're going to build from this and move on. We had a lot of good learning moments, a lot of positives. We needed a game like this at this point of the year. This is the type of environment we'll hopefully see at Gary West Side. We played good defense. They just knocked down some key shots."
Ross had 25 points with the nearly foot shorter Hatch leaning into his back all game.
"The best matchup of the night's got to be Omarion on Ross," Wells said. "He got 25, but a lot of those were early. He'll sleep well just because of Omarion."
Bush's 20 points went along with five rebonds and four blocks, a couple of which appeared to be goaltending, but were not called.
"I'm not going to say those were goaltends," he said. "I might post those later."
Hatch hit four of City's nine triples.
"We've still got stuff we can work on, but we're good," Hatch said. "We just all have to play together. We've got it now. We're back."
Wells wasn't too hung up on a three-game losing streak, but admitted the win was good for the team's psyche.
"We just needed that one for between the ears," he said. "It's a good game becuase it was physical, it was intense. We talked to the kids, let's not get so fixated on the results. The people who say, oh, you've lost three in a row, are people who only look at results. What's more important about it is the process. At this point, we still have our eyes on the big prize."
Evan Bush Omarion Hatch