LACROSSE -- It wasn't all that long ago, though, for Trey Steinhilber, maybe it seems that way.
The Boone Grove junior, who played in 10 varsity games of an injury-abbreviated freshman season, remembers what it was like to be in the shoes of LaCrosse ninth-graders Noah Kneifel and Carter Welkie as they learn on the fly against older, bigger, stronger opponents.
"I love how they play," Steinhilber said. "They're all playing hard, from Westville, LaCrosse. It's good that they're getting this experience."
Not that the 'veteran' was above handing out some lessons Monday, piling up 24 points, seven assists and four steals as the Wolves schooled the younger Tigers, 66-41.
"He started finding some holes and took advantage of it," Boone coach Matt McKay said. "Defensively, he started saying enough's enough."
After a 14-14 opening quarter, Steinhilber took over with 12 second-quarter points that helped break the game open. He had consecutive steals for layups, an and-one on a baseline drive, a deuce on another drive and a deep wing 3 before finding Mason Bills for a trey that made it 31-18 Boone at the half.
"We came out a little flat. We didn't really have a great quarter," Steinhilber said. "I was just running the offense. It was all coming from that, getting down there, rippin' it and going, gettin' to the elbow."
Steinhilber notched another eight points in the third, showing off a soft touch from 10, 12 feet to go with his dribble drive and perimeter range.
"Just the last couple summers, I was working on that mid-range pull-up, jumping as high as I can," he said. "I only started using it this year, so it's a new thing I've developed. It's nice having Mason and Drew (Murray), and Jarrod (Benkovich) protecting the basket." With LaCrosse scrambling defensively in the fourth, Steinhilber went into facilitator mode, setting up teammates for lay-ins as the Wolves blew open the game. "They put up a really nice effort," McKay said of LaCrosse. "They'll get better. (Coach) Preston (Frame) has them playing hard." Ben Garwood, a strong 6-foot-4 junior, did everything he could for the Tigers, piling up 27 points and 14 rebounds with an efficient inside-outside skill set that included three 3s. "It was nice to see him shoot the ball," Frame said. "He hasn't shot the ball well from the 3-point line this year. Part of that is he's just been a little off and part of it is he's got to force a lot to try to carry the load. I thought he did a good job early of just getting into the flow, taking what they were giving him, reacting to what he saw. Late in the game, it's hard to blame a kid for trying to make a play when you're down 20." Beyond its 23 turnovers, the Tigers (0-8, 0-3 Porter County Conference) just couldn't give Garwood any help as no one else scored more than five points. "That has been the story," Frame said. "Kyle (Gorski) has been our second option and he didn't have his best game. I'm not down at all. I talked about what this year was going to be. We started two freshmen and a sophomore along with two juniors. We're young and we're going to get better. I thought, regardless of the score, we took a step. We played well. We're going to keep working on what we need to do and we'll get there. (Turnovers) have kind of been our M.O. It's why our offensive numbers are down. With less turnovers, we get more shots. We just don't get enough shots and we haven't had guys shoot the ball well. I just told them if we cut down on our turnovers and don't give them extra possessions, our defense is good enough that we can win." Bills' big fourth quarter helped him get to 16 points. The 6-4 Benkovich blocked four shots in the third quarter alone, scoring eight points as Boone (6-2, 3-0) filled in around their backcourt scoring.
"We've been having problems with getting (Benkovich) to shoot the ball," McKay said. "He's been trying to make two-foot passes when he's at the basket. I think he finally got perturbed with us telling him so much. He started to assert himself. He went to the basket really hard a couple times. That's what he's capable of and we need him to play that way. That starts affecting shots. I don't know many times we've seen that (against us) the last couple years."
Frame hopes the Tigers can break through before the losing streak starts to wear on them. "One, it's going to be a confidence boost," he said. "They believe they can win. Right now, having a goose egg in that win column, I don't know if they believe they can win. I do. Our schedule eases up after the tournament. We knew what to expect this season. There are things that we're getting close on, we're continue to grind and hopefully it's going to start turning around."