By Dave Pearce
In the locker room following Saturday evening’s 60-45 season-opening loss to Evansville North, one of the coaches told the team that while they should not feel good about a loss, the pre-conference schedule does provide them an opportunity to learn what they need to work on.
The talented North High Huskies did just that, particularly in the second half, as the Vikings had a 20-8 assist to turnover ratio, hence the loss.
“North is a very good basketball team and we give tem a lot of credit because they are strong in all spots, especially at the guard spots,” first-year Viking Coach Heath Howington said following the game. “They have three big guys who can really play. We can’t get down because they are going to win a lot of basketball games this year.”
But North’s size probably proved to be the Vikings’ undoing on Saturday, especially when you combine that with a poor night shooting from the floor. The Huskies boast a 6-foot-7 sophomore center and a 6-foot-5 senior center who combined for 22 points against the Vikings.
But collapsing inside to help opened up the floor for speedy Jaylen Chambers, a talented 5-fot-11 senior guard who burned the Vikings for 20 points.
But the Vikings held their own, especially in the first half. With the score tied at four, North went on a 12-5 run to end the first quarter and it appeared the bigger, quicker Huskies might run away with the contest.
But the pesky Vikings had other ideas.
After spreading their nine points between four players in the first period, the Vikings turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the second period yet managed to survive what could have been a calamity.
Trailing 21-11, Michael Bender and Wes Harness scored back-to-back baskets and Bender added a pair of free throws and suddenly, it was a 21-17 game.
Then Howington pulled a three-quarter court trapping press out of the Viking arsenal forcing the Huskies into back-to-back turnovers and a time out.
“That could be something we turn to again in the future. We focused this week on making them make decisions and I thought our press did a pretty good job of that,” Howington said. “It was just getting back in transition that we struggled with.”
Out of the time out, Alec Werry was undercut on a defensive rebound and pulled his team to within 21-19 with two from the line. Senior Kyle Whitmore then found Werry inside and the score was tied at 21 with two minutes to go in the half.
But the Huskies answered with a pair of buckets by the big guys before a Harness bucket on a drive left the Vikings training 25-23 at the half.
“We told our guys at half-time that they were ‘right there’ with a very good basketball team,” Howington said. “I thought we had a good run in that second quarter. We had some energy. We just started that second half a little flat and against a team like North, you just have to be able to withstand their runs. We did that in the first half but there in the third quarter, it was just hard to recover.”
But the Huskies came out of the dressing room for the second half with pressure on their minds and they forced the Vikings into turnovers that they converted to easy buckets on their way to a 12-2 run over the first four minutes of the second half.
“It seemed like we were a little passive when that press was coming at us,” Howington said. “We had prepared for it all week but we just didn’t execute. They capitalized off our mistakes and we told the guys this week that there would be a very small margin for error. Those little lapses, I believe, were the difference in the basketball game.”
Bender again responded, stepping up with a 3-pointer to put the Husky lead back to single digits.
North answered by Reed Gertiesen found Kyle Whitmore for his first bucket of the night to pull the Vikings back to within 39-30. But Chambers appeared to have found his rhythm and buried a bucket with three seconds remaining in the period to give the Huskies an 11-point lead heading into the final period.
But once again, it would be the Vikings’ poor shooting and the North size inside that helped the Huskies build a lead of 45-30 before Cody Ungetheim could answer inside. Whitmore then nailed his only 3-pointer in the contest to pull the Vikings back to within 12 at 6:10 but the Huskies ran off the next five to take an insurmountable lead with just over five minutes remaining.
But the Vikings did not give up.
Werry burned the North defense for back-to-back buckets, the second one a coast-to-coast drive before Chambers would answer with a pair of free throws.
Harness scored on a drive to pull the Vikings back to within 52-42 at the three minute mark. But North went on another mini-run, scoring the next six points to take a 58-42 lead with a minute to go.
Jacob Brenton came off the bench firing in the final minute and the junior buried a 3-pointer for the Vikings’ final points.
Howington told the team to keep things in perspective. They were playing their first game under a new coach and a new system.
“It’s game one and it is a long season,” Howington said. “We told them to be disappointed but not devastated. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. Our goal each day is to be just a little better than we were the day before. I thought everyone went into the game contributed in some way.”
“But 20 turnovers and eight assists is the story of the ballgame,” Howington said. “Our No. 1 offensive goal is to value each possession. That’s one goal we failed to reach tonight.”
Harness and Werry led the team in scoring with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Bender and Ungetheim added five apiece while Brenton had three.
The Vikings will travel to Mount Vernon on Friday night to face the Wildcats. Game time for the reserve contest is 6 p.m. with the varsity game beginning at around 7:30.