DANVILLE — Hoopeston Area boys basketball coach Matt Colston was very precise in his assessment of how his Cornjerkers were able to turn a rough first half against the Oakwood Comets into a win in their opening game of the 2014 Vermilion County basketball tournament.
“We played less awful,” Colston said of his team’s performance in the second half of Saturday’s 59-52 win over the Comets. “We just did not play well at all tonight. I thought we were very soft physically.
“I just thought we played terrible. I think you have to credit Oakwood a little bit because Oakwood came out and was physical with us. I thought they played well today. Part of the reason we didn’t play well was because Oakwood did.”
The Comets forced the Cornjerkers to turn the ball over on four of their first five possessions of the game. The only time in the first two-and-a-half minutes they did not turn it over, they missed a shot. It wasn’t until the 5:20 mark of the first quarter that Hoopeston Area finally got on the board on a basket by senior guard Daniel Lawson (eight points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals).
Mason Layden later hit back-to-back threes as part of a 10-2 run in the second quarter to give the Cornjerkers a 23-15 lead. It seemed as though Hoopeston Area had taken control, but Oakwood responded with a 17-3 run of its own that lasted nearly seven minutes of game time from the second quarter into the third. Oakwood senior Skyler Slade scored eight of his game high 20 points during the stretch.
The Cornjerkers, however, didn’t let up and closed out the third quarter on a 19-6 run to take a 42-38 lead. Brennan Crose hit a clutch three with 4:46 to go in the period to give Hoopeston Area its final lead of the game at 33-32. Layden and Nathan Michael followed with consecutive threes.
“He made some big ones tonight for us,” Colston said of Layden, who scored nine of his 15 points from behind the arc. “We needed that. We haven’t shot well all year, and tonight was the best we’ve shot. Mason is capable of that. He made some big shots for us, and did some big things for us tonight.
“With some of these seniors we have, they are starting to learn how to handle these things and how to win close games. I think we’re going to be in a bunch of them this year, so we need to make sure we’re doing that.”
Hoopeston Area shot 20-for-40 in the game and made 12 of 16 free throw attempts. Crose (19 points, two steals) made seven of his eight free throw attempts, all in the fourth quarter. Trey Layden finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
Oakwood junior Parker Lee did his best on the offensive end to keep his team in the game scoring eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
The Cornjerkers made an effort to limit Lee’s opportunities, but they ultimately couldn’t completely hold him down.
“That kid’s a really good player, and he made some really tough shots tonight that you just tip your hat to,” Colston said of Lee. “I think we handled things well. At the end of the game in the last two minutes, we didn’t really take bad shots. We took care of the ball, we got a couple of easy baskets, and then we made our free throws down the stretch. That’s really the big thing. They handled the situation well.”
The win extended Hoopeston Area’s winning streak to four games, it’s longest of the season following three consecutive losses.
The Cornjerkers will have four days off before taking on the top-seeded Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Oakwood will be back in action on Tuesday, also facing the Blue Devils at 8 p.m.