Grayson returns; Chesterton balance, size is too much for Michigan City
Updated: Feb 6
MICHIGAN CITY -- No team wants to be without its leading scorer, let alone its top two, but in a season where the ability to adjust on the fly has never been more important, Chesterton has navigated the absence of Travis Grayson and Sean Elliott about as well as Trojans coach Marc Urban could have hoped.
"The other guys had to grow up, the other guys had to step up, and they did that," Urban said. "It's a little bit of a blessing in disguise. Those guys took advantage of them being out."
Grayson returned to the lineup Thursday against Michigan City, following a two-week COVID protocol pause and Elliott's back practicing, so Chesterton (14-2, 5-0 Duneland Conference) will be back to full strength in short order, and be a better team than the one that was last intact almost a month ago.
"Especially since they got time without me, they got their confidence, they got better," Grayson said after the 62-51 win. "It makes it easier for me to just kick it to them for open shots. When those guys are hitting shots, the lanes open. They're tough. I was craving to get back in and play with these guys. It's just fun. Those guys pushed me, helped me get back. I couldn't ask for a better team."
After shaking off the dust in the first quarter, Grayson got rolling in the second quarter, banging a pair of 3s in a nine-point stretch to bump the Trojans in front.
"To start the game off, I was a little rusty," he said. "I had to get my wind back because I was out for two weeks. The first day back (Saturday) was brutal. I had to do some sprints. I had to get it back going. My teammates just really pushed me. I love playing games like that, a fast-paced, defensive type of game. Those (Michigan City) guys talk a lot, but they really don't get to me. It's basketball. They talk to me, I talk to them."
The junior guard hit 6-of-8 free throws as the Trojans broke open the game in the fourth quarter. He finished with 17 points to get the best of Wolves guards Omarion Hatch and Jamie Hodges Jr., who managed 11 points playing with a high ankle sprain.
"I wish people could get to know Travis better because he's a great kid," Urban said. "I think his future's so bright, the college that gets the chance to coach Travis is going to be lucky because he's a competitor, he works really hard, and I'm glad I'm getting to coach him. I know (Hodges) wasn't 100 percent, but I'm glad that he played. He's a good player and Travis wants to be one of the best. I think if you're a competitor, it's always going to be that way."
City coach Tom Wells didn't expect to have Hodges back, but after a doctor's clearance and a productive practice Wednesday, he suited up with a heavily-taped foot.
"I thought we might be able to get something out of him," Wells said. "It was pretty obvious he just doesn't have much giddy-up. Everything was short. We tried to protect him a little bit, let Omarion handle (the point). He's used to it. You get so used to seeing (Hodges) get in creases and cracks and exploding into those locations. He finishes a lot of stuff against a lot of big people, and he didn't finish."
The Wolves got five 3s from Tahari Watson, but couldn't match Chesterton's balance nor its size, getting doubled up on the glass. Justin Sims, a 6-5 freshman, scored nine points and snared eight boards, scoring twice in the second quarter on putbacks and also popping a 3. Sophomore Owen Guest backed Grayson in the second quarter with a pair of treys. Chris Mullen snared nine rebounds and Tyler Vanderwoude seven, both chipping in eight points.
"We have very active, physical bigs with high motors," Urban said. "Justin keeps getting better. Owen was able to get some more minutes and had to step up and get some good experience while Travis was out. He's a good player. We've got some guys down there who altered some shots and were able to dig out some big rebounds. Honestly, I thought we did a poor job rebounding in the first half. The second half, we did a better job."
Two early fouls on 6-4 Evan Bush made the Wolves size disadvantage an even bigger problem.
"That takes a little bit of our punch away," Wells said. "It ends up being the size thing again that bites us in the butt. Part of us not being able to get tempo is the ball's got to go in the basket for us in order to press and we never got going. We've got to continue to get better in the half court. We've got to become better screeners. Right now, we get open looks because we turn you over or we get in transition. We get in five on five, we don't get open looks. A lot of the free throw discrepancy is because they throw the ball inside, they have people to throw it to, and we just don't have that as part of the offensive repertoire."
As usual, Charlie Eaton did the dirty work for Chesterton, stuffing the stat sheet with five steals, four assists and four boards. He took just two shots, hitting a 3.
"Chuck just knows how to win. All he wants to do is win," Urban said. "Look at his soccer. The track record speaks for itself. He's a leader. He really does not care about anything other than winning and that makes coaching really fun."
Outside of Watson, City (11-5, 1-2) was 2-of-12 from the arc and was outscored 19-4 at the line.
"They're a tough guard. They have a lot of guys who can fill it up, guys who can get hot quickly," Urban said. "We did a pretty good job when it had that feel that they were going to make a run, getting locked back in and moving on to the next possession and getting a stop. I thought we did a good job helping early when needed to, getting back and recovering. I felt we were pretty connected with all five guys. We have really good kids in the locker room. If we do that and have kids who are very unselfish, who are connected, who like to work hard, it's really, really fun to coach these guys. I've said that a lot."
Jacob Thorsen's Point Spreads
Chesterton @ Warsaw (+13)
Bishop Noll @ Valpo (-34.5)
Kankakee Valley @ LaPorte (-4.5)
Hobart @ Calumet (-16.5)
Merrillville @ Hammond Morton (+14.5)
Crown Point @ Andrean (+6.5)
E.C. Central @ Lake Central (-16)
Hobart @ Hanover Central (-19.5)
Munster @ Portage (+26)