HOOPESTON — Without any player taller than 6-feet, 2-inches, Hoopeston Area coach Matt Colston knows his Cornjerkers have to play very good defense.
So when Colston took over the program a year ago, he started to instill an aggressive defensive mentality where his players overplay the passing lanes and switch almost every screen.
It’s taken his players a little while to adapt to this new system but on Tuesday night everything clicked right as Hoopeston Area defeated Milford 51-44. It’s the first loss of the season for the Bearcats (8-1 overall, 4-1 in the Vermilion Valley Conference) and the win avenges Milford’s 43-35 win the title game of the Watseka Holiday Tournament.
“That’s the style of defense that coach wants us to play all of the time,’’ said Hoopeston Area senior Mason Layden, who scored 12 of his team-high 14 points in the third quarter to go along with four steals and eight rebounds. “He wants us to get after it and force turnovers.
“When we shoot as poorly as we did tonight, he wants us to get down and get dirty on the defensive end.’’
The Cornjerkers (8-6, 2-1) shot at right at their season average of 34.6 percent (18-of-52) and that included a third quarter where they were 9-of-14.
“We haven’t shot well all year. If we would have shot well, we would have won several more games,’’ Colston said. “But, we are also capable of really guarding. Milford is a really talented and good team. I thought our kids played hard and got their hands on a lot of passes.’’
Hoopeston Area forced Milford into 23 turnovers and the Cornjerkers had 18 steals in the contest and they converted those Bearcat offensive miscues into 23 points.
“You have to credit their defense,’’ said Milford coach Dave Caldwell, who is filling in for coach John Spezia, who remains hospitalized after a Dec. 31 automobile accident. “They overplayed a lot, and we didn’t back cut like we were supposed to. And then our low post passes either got stolen or deflected a lot. We didn’t take care of the ball. It’s hard to win with 23 turnovers.’’