Keepers of "The Keg": Vick, Baker take control early, carry Kouts to convincing PCC win at Westville
BY CJ PETERS
For JP on Preps
WESTVILLE — Painted in Kouts’ school colors of black and yellow, “The Keg” sat at Westville’s center court prior to Friday’s Porter County Conference game.
For Mustangs coach Kevin Duzan, when the PCC's boys' basketball traveling trophy is involved, he feels there is a different kind of energy.
“That Keg brings out something special in everybody,” he said. “We don’t wanna give it up and everybody wants it.”
Scoring the game’s first 10 points, Kouts forged an18-point first quarter lead that swelled to 32 by halftime, keyed by a first-year varsity starter, senior Joe Vick, and junior Matthew Baker, who had missed the previous four games.
“Matthew has been out the last few games so I was kind of thinking, 'Well, he’s a key scorer for us, so how’s it gonna work with both of us getting touches?’ Vick said. “But we swung the ball a lot and it worked out well for us. Everyone had a great game."
Vick posted 17 of his game-high 25 points and Baker, who had a double-double, had 13 of his 21 in the demolition of a first half and were the stars of the show for Kouts, who kept the "The Keg" in black and gold with a 67-42 rout of Westville.
“We always talk about a good first four, five minutes and matching intensity and I felt like we did that really well and on their floor,” Duzan said. “It was nice to see us get off to that kind of a start. As good as we looked offensively, I thought our defense was solid in the first half and we did a great job of limiting what they wanted to do because we knew what they were gonna do. We knew that (Gavin) Hannon wanted to get to the basket on his left, so we wanted to get him going right and then we knew we had to take care of the two Peppers (Kenny and Kaden) inside where they had a size advantage. I felt our big guys understood how to switch when they needed to.”
After Baker posted 11 points in the 23-5 first quarter, the 6-foot-1 Vick followed up with the same total in the second. He was 6-for-7 from the free-throw line in the quarter and 8-for-9 for the game, adding five rebounds.
Having played behind the likes of the Kniefels (Parker and Hunter) and Wiremans (Brent, and more so, Cale and Cole), Vick toiled on junior varsity the last three seasons, and has run with his opportunity.
“He’s been our leading scorer all year and he played really well in the four games Matthew was out, so it was nice to see that from him in a game in which Matthew was back,” Duzan said. “That gives us a 1-2 punch, along with some other guys that can throw it in once in a while too, which helps. Joe paid his dues, he battled against the Kniefels, the Wiremans, Cooper Schoon and never backed down. He’s playing the way he’s practiced against us the last few years and I couldn’t be happier for a kid who’s worked his tail off. He’s undersized, but he’s listened in practice to all the drills we’ve been doing and has been working on footwork and stuff, so it’s nice to see him get some rewards for that.”
For Vick, he said it feels good to actually get out on the court and get in on a lot of the action, putting to use his experience on a bench of a team that went to the Class A state title game last season.
“I was sitting behind a really good group of guys obviously, so when I wasn’t playing, it was just watching everything the varsity does, and I was able to learn a lot from them,” Vick said. “Things like keeping your head in the game and being smart on the court. Like the Kniefels, for example, they’re really smart players and I was a learn a lot from them in that aspect.”
Winners of three in a row, the Mustangs (5-2, 3-0) had runs of 10-0, 11-0 and 8-0 in the first half. They had an 8-0 run in the third, answering a run of seven straight from the Blackhawks.
“We knew we had to defend The Keg, that’s what we talked about in the locker room and we said we had to come out here and play the right way and we did,” Vick said. “I don’t know what it was, but we were hot at the beginning. That’s exactly how we wanted to start and we just kept it going the rest of the way.”
In his first game since Nov. 26 after having been out due to a family matter, Baker delivered a dozen rebounds to go with his 21 points. Duzan said it was ‘good to have Matthew back.’
“He makes a huge difference for us, he settles things down for us with his experience out there,” Duzan said. “Matthew’s our leader. Ask every one of these guys in the locker room and they’d tell you Matthew’s the leader, so for him to come out and set the tone early like that was big.”
Even without starting guard Julian Ellis due to a family matter, coach Drew Eubank felt that the team was in a good position to come out and have a good game. It went on to be held to five and six points respectively in the first two quarters.
“As soon as we got down 6, 8-0, we started to panic and try to get our own stuff and it really hurt us,” Eubank said. “They made a bunch of shots early but they were open shots because we didn’t do a good job of seeing screens, whether it was communicating or having our head up or what. They screened us well and they got looks and hit them. Kouts played really hard and that was the difference in this game – they played really hard all game and we played really hard, at times. That’s not good enough, ever. We gotta do a better job of getting these guys prepared to come out and play hard for 32 minutes, instead of 20 or 10 or whatever.”
Kaden Pepper led the Blackhawks (2-2, 1-1) with 20 points, including 14 in the second half. Kenny Pepper added eight points and 10 rebounds.
With 14 points in the third quarter and 17 in the fourth, Eubank said the team’s shots 'weren’t as horrible.’
“The thing with us, a lot of our offense is gonna come off our defense, like not necessarily off of steals, but like off a rebound and then we wanna go with it and put pressure on their defense,” Eubank said. “The second half still wasn’t good, but we played a little bit of defense and worked the ball a little bit more. Guys weren’t settling for the same shots as we did in the first half and that really made the difference. Your defense always sets up your offense and we didn’t play any defense, so that didn’t set anything up.”
Westville is off until the La Porte County Classic, where it'll play Michigan City on Dec. 27 and New Prairie the following day.
“We gotta be ready to play and we gotta be ready to defend,” Eubank said. “It’s hard sometimes for kids to understand that you’re not gonna be successful offensively, unless you’re successful defensively. The game is a lot harder when you’re going back and forth scoring and it’s a lot easier when you’re getting stops, getting rebounds and getting out and going. We just have to rediscover that. Even if the offense was fantastic, we still would have been in trouble because we gave up 43 points in the first half, that’s too much. Whether you scored 11 or 40, it’s just hard to win that way.”
For Kouts, the solid start suggests the revenge tour that the rest of the PCC had in mind for the Mustangs just isn't going to happen.
"Credit to the coaches and the kids listening and buying in," Duzan said. "Winning’s contagious and right now, we’re doing a little bit of that."