BY JOHN DUBOIS
The Westville Tigers won their seventh straight game with a 58-36 win over the Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers Tuesday at the Vermilion County Tournament.
It was the Tigers’ eighth in their last ten games, and moves them within one game of playing for the tournament title.
Robert Elliott led the way with 16 points with Layn White adding 11 points and Jeffery Thompson chipped in with 10 points. Kyle Brazas and Tanner Cox combined for 15 points as the Tigers’ starting five accounted for all but six of the team’s points.
“It is always in our mind that every game is as important as the next one,” said Westville coach Jeff Millis. “We strive for the best in every game and that was what we were focused on doing tonight. Our ball movement was very good on offense and I was pleased with the way we handled the switches they run on defense in the half-court.
“We did have a size mismatch and talked before the game about getting the ball inside which our perimeter players did a nice job of doing. Our bigs (Elliott, White) also did a nice job of looking for each other when the ball went inside. Jeffery Thompson plays the same way every night. He hustles and he works hard.”
The Cornjerkers were led by a game high 18 points from Mason Layden with Daniel Lawson adding 10 points.
“Westville is a very well-coached and disciplined team,” said Hoopeston Area coach Matt Colston. “They are a bigger and more physical team than we are and we dug to big of a hole for ourselves to get out of.
“Mason is an outstanding player who has continued to improve since day 1 this season. He has made tremendous progress on defense and as we learn to screen better and do a better job of getting him the ball he can become and even bigger threat on offense.”
The Tigers jumped out to an 8-2 lead and led 13-6 at the end of the first quarter. Elliott would score 11 of his points in the second quarter as the Tigers built and 18 point lead and took a 30-14 lead into halftime. The Tigers committed one foul in the first half.
“In the first half we moved our feet well, stayed in our defensive stance, and kept the ball in front of us,” Millis said. “We played really hard in the first 16 minutes of the game.”
Led by 12 points from Layden, the Cornjerkers would score surpass their first half total with 15 points in the third, but the Tigers were still able to increase their lead and took a 47-29 advantage into the fourth.
“We played pretty well for the first three minutes of the third,” Millis said. “Over the last five minutes of the third, we got away from our fundamental principles and were not as sharp offensively or defensively. Except for this stretch we played pretty well tonight. You can get away with stretches like this when you have a lead, but it’s not something you can get by with in a close game.”
Colston was pleased with what he saw from his team in the third..
“We did play well in stretches,” he said. “When we did start playing better though we just couldn’t dig out of that hole we created for ourselves early.”
The Tigers defense would hold the Cornjerkers scoreless for three and half minutes to start the fourth quarter as Westville took its largest lead of the game at 52-29.
“Our top six players are sophomores and juniors,” Colston said. “We of course want to win games and keep things as close as possible if we don’t, but its also important for players to learn from each game. We are a pretty young team and an undersized team and we have to learn to be aggressive and in a lot of ways play the way Westville does.
“We have lost a lot of close games this season and things will come together for us as we continue to pick things up and strengthen our fundamentals.”
The Tigers move to 14-4 overall and will play the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils at 8 p.m. Thursday for the Pool B berth in the tournament championship game. The Cornjerkers (2-16) will face the Armstrong-Potomac Trojans at 5p.m. Thursday for a chance to advance to the 5th place game.