Figuring themselves out: After run to 4A state finals, Chesterton discovering a new team identity
La PORTE -- As it turns out, a 2-4 stretch, with three losses to state-ranked teams, wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to Chesterton.
But on the heels of a 29-1 season and a Class 4A state runner-up finish, it was a culture shock to the returning group of Trojans.
"I think our guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder," Chesterton coach Marc Urban said after Friday's 51-41 win over La Porte. "We lost four games against good opponents. We got beat down in Noblesville and I think it stripped us back to square one. We've really turned that page to this team and guys stepping into new roles. We're still not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction."
After an overtime loss to 3A No. 4 Norwell, the Trojans closed out the Noblesville tournament with a 20-point win over Northridge, then returned home to reassess where they stood as the calendar flipped to 2023.
"That gave everyone a reality check," junior Tyler Parrish said. "We're not the same team. We lost people. It's a new team. We realized that, but at the same time, we didn't. We all have new roles, spots to fill. It's a new team. We just had to figure it out. We came in one day and went straight defense. We didn't touch the ball. We worked on positioning, where to be, the help line. We taped stuff on the court. We did the same thing on offense to get everyone on the same page so we know what we're all doing. I think we're on the right track."
So much of what Chesterton did last season was initiated by Indiana All-Star point guard Travis Grayson, so even with budding talent like Parrish and 6-6 classmate Justin Sims back, it had to figure out how the puzzle pieces were going to fit together.
"They're in a different role in those moments and that's part of our growth," said Urban, who also graduated post mainstay Chris Mullen. "Justin and Parrish are really talented. They're eager to get better and work really hard. When they do those things, good things are going to happen. Parrish has three games where he's had over 30 but they're not playing to just score points. They're making the right decisions, playing with a good motor. That's what gives us a chance to win."
The pair led the Trojans (8-4) against the Slicers with 18 and 13 points, respectively, but production wasn't limited to them. Owen Guest was strong on the boards, where Sean Kasper popped a couple key 3s and Chesterton moved the ball freely.
"We just keep getting better," Urban said. "It's the second week of practice that we've really been dialed in and I think it's carried over. We had a little lapse where we got a little comfortable, but when we're locked in and playing hard, we have a chance to be pretty good defensively. The start was big for us. We got some stops and made the right decisions offensively. 'OG' and Casper made some really good passes."
Justin Sims of Chesterton defends a shot by La Porte's Malik Corley in Friday's game at Slicer Gym. Photo by Mike Kellems
Parrish has transitioned comfortably into an Alpha role, but knows it's not all on his shoulders.
"I feel like I know what I need to do," he said. "I'm not executing it 100 percent, but I'm getting there. Last year, it was more shoot open 3s, Travis got me the ball. I've got ball in hands more now. I feel like we always get everyone's best shot, but it was the same way last year before we went to state. It's just kind of carried on. It's fun."
Chesterton came into a hyped atmosphere at Slicer Gym, where Purdue's women's basketball pep band revved up an already energetic crowd. A group of students set up a mock ESPN Sports Center in the front of the student section. The Trojans didn't blink, zapping the early buzz with a 13-1 start, holding La Porte without a field goal for over six-and-a-half minutes and three first-quarter points.
"Defense matters," Parrish said. "It helps on other end, too. It gets us locked in, ready to go."
Chesterton wavered a bit in the fourth quarter, when a 14-point advantage slipped to six, but Sims scored twice on the left block after a timeout to stem the tide and Parrish inserted the dagger with a corner 3.
"They're down, they start going a little quicker and we got loose there," Urban said. "They're a good ball club. They've got some nice pieces and Jordan (Heckard)'s doing a good job. They've got so many guys who can shoot the basketball and they do a good job of cutting. They shoot a lot of 3s, so we're just trying to limit those free looks and make sure we get those long rebounds. We've got to clean up where we don't turn it over like we did, just play the game and something will break, even when a team's scrambling like that. Winning in the DAC's tough on the road, when they've got the Purdue band and ESPN here."
Heckard considers Chesterton's effort as the bar for his team.
"They just defend for 32 minutes," he said. "It's hard to mimic that in practice. They play as hard as anybody we'll see. We're trying to get to that level, where we play that hard. They're well-prepared for everything we're going to do. They've just got guys who make plays. Parrish is so tough to defend. He has such a high motor. He never stops. He can shoot it and he has a quick first step. To be able to do that on offensive end, then bring what he brings on the defensive end, that's a tough matchup. Holding that team to 51 points is something we can build on. I'm proud of the effort. We've just got to bring that effort every time."
Nick Furmanek of Chesterton battles for the ball with La Porte's Ja'Meriyon Cross and Tommy Samuelson during Friday's game. (Photo by Mike Kellems)