BY AARON PATTERSON
COVINGTON, Ind. —
Competing in an all-star basketball game can be fun, but the view from the sideline can sometimes be a nightmare for coaches.
The boys Western Indiana All-Stars entered Friday’s Third Annual Battle for the Border contest against the Eastern Illinois All-Stars not quite knowing what to expect.
They had two practices, but never had more than four players at a time. That might have normally spelled disaster for Western Indiana and coach Jason Good (from Fountain Central). But team speed and good basketball instincts proved to be all they needed as they defeated Eastern Illinois 65-57. More importantly, because of the point system (two points for winning a quarter and two points for the overall win), Western Indiana won three of the four quarters.
The final outcome, however, might be a bit deceiving as one pivotal play late in the third quarter shifted the momentum to Western Indiana’s favor, and ultimately won it the quarter.
The two teams were tied at 42-42, and Eastern Illinois had possession. Coach John Spezia called a time out to set up a play with hopes of taking the lead going into the fourth quarter. The out-of-bounds play couldn’t have gone worse for Eastern Illinois.
Terre Haute South Vigo product Jeffrey Turner stole the inbounds pass, and North Vermillion’s Brayden Woodard hit one of two free throws with six seconds on the clock to give Western Indiana the lead going into the final quarter. The free throw also helped Western Indiana win the quarter 10-9.
“The two things that we needed to do, they communicated pretty well and got a big steal when we needed one,” Good said. “Jeffrey’s steal at the top was big.
“They called time out just to set up a play. We talked on the bench that we wanted to get a turnover. And we did. I thought that was pretty big. We got some momentum going in the fourth quarter.”
Eastern Illinois had just fought its way back to tie the game with a 6-0 run after Western Indiana had led by as many as six.
From there, Western Indiana used the momentum to outscore Eastern Illinois 11-7 during a stretch that was highlighted by an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter.
“We just needed to get more stops on defense,” said Eastern Illinois forward and former Westville Tiger Robert Elliott. “They got a lot of easy layups. If we just get some boards and play better defense it should be a pretty good game (on Saturday).”
Still, Eastern Illinois found itself trailing 59-57 with one minute to go in the game. Bismarck-Henning’s Austin Toler hit a free throw to pull Eastern Illinois to within two, but that was the last point they managed. Western Indiana closed out the game making six of eight free throws to secure the win.
Much of Eastern Illinois’ inability to score at the end resulted from a rule that states that no player can foul out of the game, but for every foul a player commits after his limit, the opposing team will be rewarded free throws as well as possession.
Former Cissna Park standout Alex Rabe committed a total of seven fouls in the contest, but Eastern Illinois coach John Spezia chose to keep him in the game in an attempt to match up with Western Indiana’s quickness.
“We were behind and I’ve got to play him somewhere,” Spezia said. “We just tried to keep as much pressure on them as we could. They did a good job. They hit their free throws at the end. We just didn’t take care of the basketball as well as we should have.”
Good credited the duo of Drake Cooksey (19 points) and Cody Thomas, both of Southmont, for creating problems for Eastern Illinois.
“We talked at the beginning of the fourth quarter that we wanted to make sure we finished with Cooksey, Thomas, and (Nathan) Rogers on the floor because we just thought we were faster than them. With those four guys (including Rockville’s Jordan McFall), we’re pretty fast. We got a lot of deflections. Drake got three or four really important rebounds at the end of the game. That was definitely the difference.”
Mahomet-Seymour’s Brad Herrmann led all scorers with 21 points while Elliott had 14 and 10 rebounds. Cooksey finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, Turner scored 15, and Rogers added 13 for Western Indiana.
Eastern Illinois earned three additional points by winning a halftime three-point shootout 13-9.
The two teams will meet again tonight at 7 p.m. at Palmer Arena in Danville. Eastern Illinois will try to rebound from the loss while Western Indiana hopes its magic will continue when it crosses the border.
“We just came together as a group of guys,” Cooksey said. “We didn’t really know each other. We just came together and wanted to win. That’s what happened.”