BY AARON PATTERSON
Any team under the direction of Westville coach Jeff Millis will be sure to focus on defense. But something the area coaching veteran has also stressed throughout his career is the idea of teamwork — an aspect that might not always happen to its fullest extent, especially in a game that has the potential to be highlighted and individualized by star players.
The longstanding message has been pressed into the minds of the Westville Tigers, and on Tuesday, Millis couldn’t have been more pleased with his squad’s efforts to fulfill his wishes.
All five Westville starters scored in Tuesday’s 61-37 Vermilion Valley Conference win over the Oakwood Comets, but they also each recorded at least one assist.
“I’ve stressed that my entire coaching career,” Millis said, noting it was also the first thing he praised his team for in the postgame talk. “It’s something that we’ve talked about since day one. We’ve got a lot of kids that are capable of doing a lot of things well, and how each night out, we’ve all got to realize that it’s not about who scores points, it’s about our team playing together. We’re not going to worry about who scores the points, we’re going to worry about playing team offense and playing team defense.”
Westville junior guard Tanner Cox (14 points) led the way with three of the Tigers’ nine assists, followed by Kyle Brazas (11 points, four rebounds) and Layn White (18 points, seven rebounds) who each had two, and Jeffery Thompson (seven points) and Robert Elliott (seven points, four rebounds) each had one assist.
“(Coach Millis) says that if the ball is not falling, try to find another way to help your team,” White said. “Go get an offensive putback, or take a charge. It’s not all about scoring, it’s about helping your team.
“Probably tonight, I thought, was one of the better nights that we’ve had and played together as a team.”
The teamwork paid dividends as well on the defensive side where Westville swiped 12 steals accounting for 27 points and half of the Comets’ 24 turnovers. Elliott and Cox each had four steals while White and Thompson had two.
But it wasn’t simply the defensive pressure that the Tigers (4-1 overall, 2-0 in the VVC) put on the Comets (1-6, 0-1) that paved the way for the 24-point win. Westville shot 54 percent from the field and was 13-for-24 in the first half.
While Westville had 13 turnovers — seven on traveling violations — the tone was set early for Oakwood which committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter.
“It’s more than just turnovers,” Oakwood coach Doug Robinson said. “We’re behind where we should be right now. It’s boxing out, it’s the little things. It’s help-side defense. Turnovers is one thing, definitely, but it’s more than that.”
The loss was the fifth in a row for the Comets since picking up the team’s only win of the season against Armstrong-Potomac in the Paxton Interstate Classic.
The Tigers, however, had their winning streak extended to three games after suffering their only loss on December 1 against St. Joseph-Ogden.
They’ll attempt to make it four consecutive wins on December 19 against Chrisman in their final home game before beginning play in the St. Joe Leader Classic. The strong start has the Tigers optimistic about the season, but they are steadily remaining grounded through their early-season success.
“We’re better than what we were last year,” White said, “but we still have a lot we can get better at.”