Off and running: Kouts wears down Marquette in season opener
KOUTS -- With a loaded, experienced senior class, a little longer bench and some apparent chinks in the armor of sectional nemesis Gary 21st Century, it appears that the stars could be aligned for a Kouts tournament run this post-season.
Now it just needs the post-season to happen. "I pray about it every night when I go to bed that we keep the season, stay healthy and get through all of this," the Mustangs' Cole Wireman said after dropping 30 points on Marquette Catholic in a harder-than-the-score-looked 87-71 win Tuesday. "It gets to me a lot more, this is it for me, this is the last time we have a chance to get down state. That's our final goal."
Foul trouble and hot Blazers perimeter shooting put the Mustangs in a double-digit hole in the second quarter, one they quickly climbed out of after the half, when they withstood another 3-point barrage by Brit Harris (33 points), using a late 15-1 run to pull away late.
"It was a challenge," Wireman said. "This was the hardest game we've come out to in a long time. The first half, we were back just getting our feet wet. We hadn't played since AAU season. It was nice to come out and have a tough game, throw in some adversity in there right away, have to change at halftime. We always get into foul trouble our first game. We had to change what we were doing, play smarter. I really liked that coming out of the gates the first game because we're always preparing for the next game and the next game." Fouls were a theme within the opening three minutes as Parker Kneifel drew his second whistle at 5:54 of the first quarter and Wireman did the same at 2:39. In between, Marquette's Caden Manna picked up a pair of his own, depleting an already thin Blazers bench minus starters Lukas Balling and Jason Kobe (contact tracing).
"I told those guys, it's early, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to be on you," Kouts coach Kevin Duzan said. "I felt like early on we just didn't play smart. We wanted to get going so bad, sometimes we get out of position on defense, get caught in a spot you shouldn't and foul. It hurts us when the wrong guys get fouls. We've got to learn. I told them at halftime, we're in this spot every year because you don't listen. They get away with that stuff all summer long, then we get to November, December, January, they're calling it. We're tough to officiate some nights because we're so aggressive. We've got to figure out what is and what isn't (a foul)." Four first-quarter treys staked Marquette to a 20-12 edge that grew to 31-19 in the second quarter. "When you make shots, it covers up a lot of errors," Blazers coach Ray Tarnow said. With Kneifel and both Cole and Cale Wireman carrying three fouls at the half, Kouts had to temper its pressure, but went on a run in the third quarter forcing turnovers with a zone trap. Hunter Kneifel had a pair of steals and breakaways as Kouts turned a 43-35 deficit into a 58-52 lead in a span of six minutes during which Manna fouled out.
"We rolled the dice on Kaden," Tarnow said. "We tried to sneak him in on offense. I really felt like the doors were going to blow off then. We took a calculated risk and it failed. We had four JV kids on the bench who wouldn't be there and the foul trouble just exacerbates that. We were just throwing kids in there. We come out in a zone, trying to hide guys, and it's hard to rebound out of that sometimes. We just couldn't keep their kids off the boards. I felt like we played the Wiremans really well. Honestly, it was just, were you going to guess right because they can all get on a heater. Rebounding just killed us." Harris' third 3 of the quarter kept Marquette from cracking and Gary Lewis Jr.'s triple briefly put the Blazers back up 62-60 early in the fourth. "Brit was a stud," Duzan said. "I watched them play Washington (Township) a couple times and I never saw a guy do that. Ray had them ready to go. They were short a couple guys and Brit put them on his back. Manna fouling out didn't hurt us at all. They've got good things coming." The game was last tied at 66 when Kouts ran off 14 of the next 15 points, punctuated by a Wireman and-one on a jumper. Cooper Schoon had six of his 10 points in the fourth as the Mustangs broke down the Marquette's matchup zone for layups and Matt Baker hit the Mustangs' sole 3 to fan the flames. "There are going to be nights when we shoot more (3s), but our strength is getting to the basket," Duzan said. "We're pretty athletic. We've got to penetrate. We did not want to get into a shootout with them as good of a 3-point shooting team as Marquette is. They tend to make a good percentage. It helped that Cole and Parker were able to stay on the floor. We finally put a guy in the middle and they never put anybody in there. Once we got Parker to look at the basket, Cooper found himself down on the baseline there just waiting for a dunk." All five Kouts starters reached double figures with Cale Wireman scoring 17, Hunter Kneifel 11 and Parker Kneifel 10 (eight rebounds), along with Schoon (seven rebounds). "That's going to be a recipe for success most nights," Duzan said. "I think our first five are pretty good. The six and seven are going to have be guys that continue to work at it. It's good to build that in those kids. We've just got to keep improving. We didn't shoot free throws well. We've got to rebound better, play together better. When play five on five instead of one, two or three on five, we're a lot better. It should be a fun season. We don't know what tomorrow's going to bring or Friday or the next weekend. We're just glad to play a game. It's just fun to be back out there. " In addition to Harris, who also had five assists, Manna posted 11 points and six boards in his limited minutes, and Lewis scored the same, playing the entire game.
"Brit's had games where he's scored more but I felt that was his best basketball game," Tarnow said. "He was also playing defense on a Wireman. Caden's a strong boy. We hung in there. They're a good team. Us at full strength, I think it's a heck of a game. We no longer want to take a tap on the back, but I was very pleased with the effort."
Kouts travels to Hebron on Friday and Marquette takes on Michigan City on Saturday.