HOOPESTON — With two starters measuring at 6-foot-5 or taller, and three others listed at at least 6-1 or more, the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils will likely have a size advantage against most teams this season. At the very least, they will be able to match up.
But they learned early in the Cornjerker Classic that size doesn’t always mean an automatic advantage. They proved that rebounding is often more about effort.
“That first game, our rebounding wasn’t very good,” said Bismarck-Henning 6-foot-8 center Wilde Garowski. “We kind of learned from that. The second game was a little better. Yesterday when we came out, we knew we couldn’t out-jump them (Donovan), so we just boxed out hard and stayed aggressive.”
The Blue Devils still got by with wins and showed improvement throughout the tournament. By Saturday’s finale against Hoopeston Area, Bismarck-Henning had got the message from coach Jon Clapp of the importance of boxing out. It resulted in a 60-41 win over the Cornjerkers to go undefeated and win this year’s Cornjerker Classic.
“The very first game of the tournament, we were absolutely horrible about boxing out and rebounding,” Clapp said. “I think over the four games, we made some significant strides and consciously made an effort to make sure we were boxing out on guys and holding them out and getting rebounds.”
The Blue Devils got past Leroy in their first game on Saturday in what ultimately helped decide the championship. Then, in the tournament’s finale, they out-rebounded the Cornjerkers 34-15 with Garowski leading the way.
By the end of the first half, Garowski had already grabbed nine of his game-high 14 rebounds, all of which were on the defensive glass.
Hoopeston Area tried everything it could to keep him off the boards and away from the basket, but that only freed up Garowski’s teammates.
“It seemed like they were trying to front me and double team me a lot,” Garowski said. “So, I just worked hard and got on the glass so that they couldn’t double team me. I tried to move around so that they couldn’t.
“If I would get doubled, I would just kick it out to Andy (Bott) or someone else.”
While Garowski finished with 16 points, Bott scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Chase Connelly accounted for 14 points with 10 coming in the second half, and Dylan Allen scored 11 and had six assists.
By halftime, Bismarck-Henning had built a 27-11 lead, and held Hoopeston Area scoreless for seven minutes, 57 seconds of game time in the second and third quarters. During that stretch, the Blue Devils increased their lead from 10 points to a commanding 22-point advantage.
The Cornjerkers attempted a comeback in the fourth quarter when they made five of eight three-point attempts, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
Brennan Crose led Hoopeston Area with 17 points making four of his five shots from behind the arc, and was a perfect five-of-five from the free throw line.
As defending Vermilion Valley Conference champions, the Blue Devils know they will have to be at their best every night. Clapp believes that if they stay focused, they could see similar success this season.
“I think if we put in a lot of effort, we’re going to be a good team over the year,” Clapp said. “I think it’s going to come down to us just not thinking we’re a good team and believing that.
“We’re going to have to come out and prove it every night. We’re going to get everybody’s best game. We’re kind of the marked team in the conference this year because we won it last year. Everywhere we go, everybody’s going to give us their best game.”