La PORTE -- In the era of five out, open post offenses, Lake Central is a throwback, proving that basketball can still be played effectively through the low block.
"You just try to play to your strengths every year," Indians coach Dave Milausnic said.
And strength may be LC's biggest strength, with the height and bulk of 6-foot-4 Brandon Escobedo, 6-5 Jacob Smith, 6-4 Rhett Pieters and 210-pound Xavier Williams, a stud running back in football.
"There's a lot of trust on this team and the style of play fits for the whole squad," Escobedo, the Steiner Homes Holiday Tournament MVP, said. "We only lost about three players, so we were excited for this squad. Everybody was ready to play with each other. The outside hype really didn't matter."
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior scored 14 of his game-high 20 points after the half, including a string of eight that was followed by a steal and Williams layup in the third quarter, to wipe out an eight-point deficit.
"We went down, but there was no rush to change our style," Escobedo said. "We know if we played our style, it would work, especially with me and Jake, two really good posts. We've focused on (high-low) more this year. It works. We're surrounded by great shooters like Mitch (Milausnic), Bret (Spain), Myles (Yekich) and Xavier. If we just kick it out, they'll knock it down for sure."
Milausnic, the son of the coach, notched 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of 3s, 'game changers,' La Porte coach Jordan Heckard said, as the Indians pulled away to win 65-58 in the finals of the Steiner Homes Holiday Tournament.
"The last two games, he's been a little off. He got hot at the right time," coach Milausnic said. "It takes a little while sometimes to do that, but when you have a group returning, you get a bit of a head start. You surround it with some decent shooting and try to get the ball inside. I thought we were putting the ball on the floor a little too quick before we gave them a chance to work for position. Not everything's going to be perfect on the catch. You've got to look for it. (Escobedo)'s a strong kid. He was posting up hard, getting to the free throw line."
La Porte rode hot 3-point shooting to a 30-27 halftime edge and extended the margin to eight in the third as RJ Anglin scored off a steal and Rylan Kieszkowski converted on a drive.
"Our best offense was when we got on that run," Heckard said. "we were back-cutting, slipping screens. when we get tired, we get a little stagnant. We shot 30 3s. That's a little too much."
Milausnic's second 3 gave LC its biggest lead at 51-44 and held off LP with six free throws in the final minute after Kyle Kirkham and RJ Anglin treys pulled the hosts within a bucket in the final 50 seconds.
"Sometimes, you've got to weather the storm when somebody comes out shooting like that," coach Milausnic said. "You just focus on getting a hand in their face. I told them at halftime, if they hit 15 3s, it's their day. You just can't let that affect your offense."
Smith added 10 points for the Indians, who also got some good minutes from Cameron Thompson after foul troubles for Myles Kekich.
"Jake got some rebounds down the stretch," Milausnic said. "With what they do defensively, it wasn't a great fit for Rhett, but he Jake and Esco have all been very good teammates in rotating. Xavier's a strong kid. I told him nobody who bench presses 300 pounds does Euro moves. He did a great job on the boards. We have two very capable ball handlers in Myles and Cam. I haven't had that in a while. Myles goes out and we don't skip a beat. We either maintain or add to the lead. That's huge."
Kyle Kirkham (16 points) and Kieszkowski (13) topped La Porte (8-3).
"We've got to keep it out of the post, keep Escobedo from getting easy touches," Heckard said. "He does a great job of sealing and getting some easy looks. They did a good job of handling our 1-3-1. We knew they would. We got some turnovers on it, but we also gave up some easy looks. It's a credit to them, playing three games in two days. It's tough to pressure that much over the course of a couple days, ask guys to keep bringing it. It was a very physical game. We had Kyle chase Mitch, which takes a lot out of him. It's kind of a catch 22."
Lake Central's run to the title included a two-point win over South Bend Adams in the semifinals.
"I told them before the tournament, whenever teams do well in these, 10 guys have to contribute," Milausnic said. "You can't play three games in two days and not have somebody out of those 10 not contribute something to the win. Everybody contributed this week, so it was a success. even if we had lost on a last-second shot, I would have been happy about everybody's attitude and effort."
Milausnic will let someone else decide whether the Indians (8-1) are a surprise of the first half of the season, simply saying, 'it's been a fun month.'
"It's been a fun month," he said. "I think Myles' maturity at point guard has really stabilized us. He's always cared about winning and losing, but sometimes a little too much. During a game, you can't let that affect you. He's been a really steady force. Last year, we would've lost two of these games. We were down, we would've been pointing fingers."
Escobedo also credits how well the team's connected as a contributing factor.
"Just starting off the season way we are shows how close we are, our chemistry, how we click together," he said. "Everyone growing up, being around each other, working out, hanging out in the summer, it carries over to what happens on the court."
The teams will meet again Friday in the Duneland Conference opener at LC.
"I'm happy with the month we had, but if we're going to compete in our conference, we've got to clean some stuff up," Milausnic said. "You look at the records and teams people have beaten, our conference is surprising people. That's a really good La Porte team. Every team in our conference, out of the 19 years I've been coaching, I truly think every team can beat every other team this year. How many years can you say that? Somebody could go 3-4 and be really good."
Lake Central's Mitch Milausnic and Rhett Pieters defend Ja'Meriyon Cross of La Porte during Friday's game. Photo by Mike Kellems
Kyle Kirkham of La Porte rises for a shot between Lake Central's Xavier Williams and Brandon Escobedo during Friday's game. Photo by Mike Kellems