Size over speed: Valpo, Jones prevail over Michigan City in clash of contrasting styles
VALPARAISO -- With at least five inches over every player in Michigan City's lineup, Mason Jones was primed for a big night Friday.
"We knew they would have match-up problems with us, even though they're a really good team," the Valpo 6-foot-7 junior said. "The whole game plan was to pound the ball in the basket area because we know they would struggle if we do that."
In a contrast of strengths, size prevailed over speed as Jones' 23 points and 10 rebounds paced the Vikings to a 76-70 Duneland Conference victory.
"Mason was a difference maker," Wolves coach Tom Wells said. "We don't really have an answer for that. We knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Their baskets aren't as taxing. Baskets for us are at a premium because we have to work so hard to get them. I thought they had way too many easy baskets in the first half, whether it was post-ups or Mason, point-blank range, a couple offensive rebounds. The second half, I thought it came more via the drive. It wears on you when you give up an easy basket and have to work so hard to get one yourself. That balance is not there."
The efficent Vikings withstood 18 turnovers by controlling the backboards and getting enough good perimeter shooting early -- three first-quarter 3s -- to keep the Wolves' zone honest.
"When they doubled, my teammates did a great job of communicating, letting me know where they are so it was much easier to relieve the pressure," Jones said. "Once they double and you get rid of it, then you're going to get easy baskets. Having a lot of shooters around me, we have lot of guys who can take it to the basket, too. We're very versatile. I think that's our biggest strength. We put a big emphasis on transition. II think that's a big part of who we are."
Blaine Dalton (17) and freshman Jack Smiley (15) backed Jones offensively.
"It's nice because every night we've got eight guys stepping up and playing to their strengths," Vikings coach Barak Coolman said. "We are very versatile and deep when it comes to that. It makes it easy when one guy has a bad night, another guy's there to help. I think we settled for too many 3s early when we could've gotten basket area points. The second half, we only shot three 3-point attempts, so we stuck with the game plan and that made a huge difference. We didn't want to get in a 3-point contest with them, especially volume 3-pointers, because they're just going to keep shooting and shooting."
Smiley, seeing extensive minutes with point guard Breece Walls in foul trouble, broke the 47-all tie with an and-one on a drive and scored 10 more points from there.
"He's just a smart basketball player," Jones said. "It's like he's a senior, he's so experienced as a freshman. This summer, we were always in the gym, working."
While it had the advantage at the rim, Valpo (12-2, 2-0) also showed no hesitation in pushing tempo when the opportunity was there, putting up 41 points in the first half to lead by seven.
"At the end, we kind of slowed it down to let us rest because of fatigue," Coolman said. "They play so fast. We would rather score in transition than half court. It's more fun and a lot easier to score three on three or two on two than five on five. It's a balance. We didn't want it to turn into a track meet, but if we can get opportunity scores, it's going to make a difference. (Smiley)'s really growing and developing. He's got a chance to be really, really good. He's playing at high-level AAU. He's worked so hard on his game, he was ready except for the (varsity) experience. He's just used to it now."
Jamie Hodges, Jr. scored 23 points for the Wolves (7-5, 0-2) despite not making a 3, to go with six steals. Javon France (12) and Laurent (11) also reached double figures.
"We missed a lot of shots again. I don't know if it's them altering them," Wells said. "We try to attack the lanes -- that's what we do. I don't know what we were from the arc (6-of-16), but we weren't terrible. I think our ball movement has to be better. We're so good off the dribble, but we've got to use that skill after some ball movement, some ball reversal, side two, side three, so they have to guard both sides of the floor. So many times, we're trying to do things against the teeth of the defense. We've got to make them guard."
Valpo's biggest lead was 15 at 76-61 before City closed the game with the last nine points.
"That's a quick team that's a hard guard for us," Coolman said. "Almost every position, we were mismatched speed-wise. They've got bigs who aren't big, so our posts are guarding guys who are much quicker. Just to be able to build a lead and have enough of a cushion to handle that last wave, I'm excited where we can go. They exposed some areas we need get better at, but to do it and not get a loss, it's even better."
Valparaiso defeated Michigan City 76-70 in a Duneland Conference game Friday.