BY CHAD DARE
Hoopeston Area coach Matt Colston has become a big fan of Bismarck-Henning senior guard Austin Toler.
On Saturday afternoon in the Vermilion County Tournament, Toler scored 11 of his game-high 20 points in the third quarter to lead the Blue Devils past the Cornjerkers 54-31.
In three games against Hoopeston Area this season, Toler has scored 57 points as Bismarck-Henning has won all three meetings.
“That kid has killed us this year,’’ Colston said. “The first time we played them, we were up three with five seconds left and he hit a 3 to tie it.
“When he is open, you give him space and he hits those shots. We made some mistakes on him tonight and he made us pay.’’
Toler’s hot hand in the third quarter got started with a driving, acrobatic layup that halted Hoopeston Area’s 7-0 run to start the second half.
The Cornjerkers, who trailed 23-13 at halftime, had pulled within three (23-20).
“We weren’t doing a very good of getting back on defense and we needed to do a better job of running our offense,’’ Toler said. “I wasn’t hitting much before that shot, but after it, I pretty much made most of my shots.
“I just got hot at the right time.’’
And does he have something against Hoopeston Area?
“No, when we play them, I just think we match up well with them,’’ he said. “They have a tough time dealing with our post players (Austin Reinken and Wilde Garowski), and that creates a lot of shots both inside and outside for us.’’
Toler, a 5-foot-9 senior, scored nine straight points to cap the Blue Devils (15-3 overall) 13-2 run, giving them a double-digit lead they would never relinquish.
“Some shots started falling for him in the second half,’’ Bismarck-Henning coach Jon Clapp said. “They were better shots, more in rhythm, and in better flow of the offense.
“In the first half, he was out of flow of the offense, and settled for a 3 instead of getting the shot out of the offense.’’
In the first two quarters, Bismarck-Henning had a 23-13 lead in spite of making just 28.6 percent of its host (6-of-21).
But in the second half, the Blue Devils were 15-of-30 (50 percent) from the field.
“Poor shooting and a new environment,’’ said Clapp about his team’s first-half struggles. “We weren’t knocking down open shots. We were missing some easy shots inside to begin the game.
“And then we quit looking inside. We decided to stand outside and put up a shot from there.’’
And while Bismarck-Henning got its offensive problems figured out, the same couldn’t be said for Hoopeston Area.
The Cornjerkers, who fall to 2-15, shot just 33 percent (14-of-42) from the field and they committed 24 turnovers leading to 22 points for the Blue Devils.
“I don’t know if we’re mentally ready to make a run and beat that team,’’ said Colston, who starts four juniors and a sophomore. “We have to play well against good teams, because of our lack of size and our youth.
“We do play well for about 20 minutes and then for about 12 minutes, we play awful. We’re just having a problem with being consistent.’’
Bismarck-Henning junior Chase Connelly made things really difficult on Hoopeston Area.
Connelly had a game-high six steals to go along with five rebounds, six points and two assists.
“I think Chase is underrated as a player in the area,’’ Clapp said. “He is not scoring a lot this year, but he is doing a lot of the little things that you need a guy to do to win games for you.
“We put him on the other team’s best player. He accepts that challenge and I think he performs well in that role.’’
Joining Toler in double figures for Bismarck-Henning was Andy Bott with 14 and Garowski finished with 10.
Leading scorer for Hoopeston Area was Mason Layden with nine.
Both teams are back in action on Tuesday night. Bismarck-Henning plays Armstrong-Potomac in the 5 p.m. game, while Hoopeston Area faces Westville in a 6:30 contest.