By CJ PETERS
MICHIGAN CITY — Following each practice, Chesterton’s players all shoot 50 free throws before they leave, but that wasn’t enough for Justin Sims this week.
“I think this week I’ve stayed after practice each time and shot 100 free throws,” he said. “Normally I was an OK free throw shooter at the beginning of the season, then it started to go down a little and I wanted to get it back up, so I stayed after and shot some.”
An athletic 6-foot-6 forward, Sims was featured early and often and presented a match-up problem all night for Michigan City as he got to the foul line at will, making 12-of-14 on his way to a game-high 24 points.
Chesterton made a living at the line Thursday, connecting on 25-of-29, with Tyler Parrish knocking down the decisive ones with 4.1 seconds left to secure a tight Duneland Conference win.
“It pays off in a game like this," Sims said, "I think when (Michigan City) started to get in foul trouble, that’s when we started to go down low and we just went on from there.”
Chesterton (13-4, 5-0 DAC) outscored City by 22 at the line. In addition to Sims' dozen makes, Parrish was a perfect 9-of-9 – including all five in the fourth – finishing with 17 points.
“We were aggressive toward the basket through our bigs and through some drives and our guys stepped up and made free throws,” Chesterton coach Marc Urban said. “We try to put stress on people down there and at the basket, and I was glad our guys stepped up and hit their shots.
“(Justin) works really hard. When you put the work in, you step up and have confidence, it’s pretty simple.”
Sims had 10 in a fourth quarter that saw five lead changes in the final 90 seconds. He finished with a double-double with 10 rebounds.
“He’s a tough match-up for us,” City coach Tom Wells said. “I thought besides the free throw thing, I thought we got beat up on the offensive glass. They had at least 12-plus points worth of putbacks.
“If you get a couple of those defensive rebounds cleanly, you’re getting in transition and going the other way. Unfortunately, when you got that big athlete going up, he gets a lot of them.”
Urban believes Sims could just be scratching the surface.
“He has a good shot, his mechanics are good, but he’s just so powerful for us down low that we’d be stupid not to throw it to him, but he’s very capable and is dangerous that way, too,” Urban said. “And I think that’s why his best basketball is ahead of him. Because he’s gonna be able to score at all three levels.
“He was very aggressive rebounding on both ends of the floor and got some big ones and probably played through some contact on a few of them as well. He’s big, he’s strong and he’s athletic, and when his motor goes like that – he’s dangerous.”
As he continues to grow into his frame and expand his game, Sims said he’s still getting warmed up to the physicality of the post.
“Normally, it’s just me shooting over guys or something like that," he said. "But now people are the same height and it’s a lot more physical.
“I think I can score at all three levels. I just gotta get better and not stay where I’m at, just constantly get better at each level.”
With the Wolves' distinct disadvantage at the line, Wells was impressed with the way his team responded.
“You’ve seen us play enough, we attack the rim pretty good, and for us to never get to the bonus in the first half and only shoot five free throws all night, it’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “But I thought our kids did a great job competing and holding our composure and making plays at big times and giving themselves a chance to win.
“I’ll try to be as politically correct as I can and say we gotta do a better job adjusting, that includes me, our kids. That being said, I thought they did a good job. Composure-wise, they were really good, because they know that’s something not in our control.”
Jamie Hodges led Michigan City (11-6, 1-4) with 14 points and chipped in four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Urban lauded the senior’s court vision amidst the pressure of a defense that now allows 48.4 points a game.
“The tough part is Jamie, he’s using his other guys,” Urban said. “I thought we did a good job for the most part loading him up. But then you get staring at him, and he’s doing a good job of hitting guys on some cuts and getting other people involved.
“I think we’re getting better defensively and our guys are starting to execute our system, they’re getting to the right spots. We have to do that because we’re not necessarily lighting up the scoreboard on the other end, but we have the capability to, so if we could figure out how to get both sides of the floor working, we'll be pretty good.”
Briton Franklin and Anthony Murphy were the 'other guys,' scoring 12 and 11 respectively. Franklin wowed the crowd with a pair of dunks, including a highlight alley-oop from Hodges in the fourth.
“He has elite athleticism around the rim and he shoots the three well,” Wells said of Franklin. “Those guys, Murphy and Briton, even though we bring them off the bench, they’re kind of starters. I think when you look at our minutes played, they’re in the top five.
“It’s exactly what you want coming off the bench, someone that can impact the game – particularly offensively – and that’s why they’re just so valuable. We always try to get Drew (Vicari) going early and we see it in practice all the time so we know he can get it going. We’re just waiting for that to happen, and it will, and hopefully it just happens at the right time.”
Michigan City (11-6, 1-4) trailed by one in a first half that saw five ties and eight lead changes and for much of the second half, but a Murphy steal and 3 by Hodges after he got a hand on a Chesterton pass put it ahead for the first time since 25-24 in the second quarter.
The lead would change three times on the next three possessions. Chesterton took a timeout at 20.1 seconds after Murphy split a pair, Parrish eventually drawing a foul and knocking down both shots. Hodges got into the lane on the final possession, but lost the ball on the way up.
Of its last three DAC games, the Wolves have lost by three, seven, and two.
“No hanging our heads,” Wells said. “Tonight really kind of shows you that. We go down five or seven and it’s late, and all of a sudden you make a play, and make a play, and that’s just gonna pay off.
“That’s what we talk to them about after the game, just gotta believe in the process and the grind that at some point in time it’ll pay off. Let’s hope it pays off at the end of February and if it does, we’ll all be really happy and all this heartache and these growing pains will be so worth it.”
With Portage's loss to Crown Point, the Trojans sit alone atop the DAC.
"A great win for us, because obviously in the conference, a tough environment, and they’re a good basketball team,” Urban said.
Chesterton's Tyler Parrish contests a shot by Jamie Hodges of Michigan City during Thursday's game. The Trojans prevailed to remain atop the Duneland Conference.
(Photo by Mike Kellems)
Chesterton's Nick Furmanek tries to draw a charge against Jamie Hodges of Michigan City during Thursday's Duneland Conference game. (Photo by Mike Kellems)