BY AARON PATTERSON
There is never an emphasis in the Westville boys basketball locker room on who the team’s leading scorer is on a given night.
It’s something Tigers coach Jeff Millis stresses continually, and if the statement is put in writing, he would likely underline and even circle “never.” It might even be highlighted.
In the last two games, though — and undoubtedly with the help of his teammates — it’s been hard to dismiss the offensive output of junior guard Jeffery Thompson.
Just this past Tuesday, Thompson scored a game- and season-high 18 points in Westville’s win over Georgetown-Ridge Farm. On Saturday in the Tigers’ opening game of the Vermilion County Tournament, he set a new season high of 22 points as they defeated Armstrong-Potomac 47-24.
But Saturday’s performance wasn’t Thompson being selfish. It was simply him taking advantage of opportunities and willing his team to win. The spark he gave the Tigers was almost a necessity as Westville was forced to rebound from a poor showing in the first half.
“I just wanted to get open drives, and if I had an open shot, I’d take it,” Thompson said. “I just tried to do my best to get the team back up.
“We were down by two points (at halftime) and we just wanted to come out and not let it slip from us. We just wanted to come out and play some basketball.”
All 22 of his points were scored in the second half with 11 coming in each quarter. Of his 11 second-half attempts, Thompson missed only two.
Regardless of who did the scoring, Thompson provided a much-needed spark following a first half that saw the Tigers have their second-lowest scoring output in a half this season. They put only two points on the board in the second quarter, and went scoreless for eight minutes, 51 seconds.
“Jeffery’s a player,” Millis said. “He’s a defender. He’s a little water bug out there that will guard you and play. His energy, he creates a lot of energy for our team, and he gave us a boost that we needed.
“But I just told our kids, we’ve had five different leading scorers. Every one of those kids has been a leading scorer for us this year. We don’t have anybody averaging double figures for our team. Nobody averages double figures.”
The second-half turnaround started on the defensive end where Westville forced Armstrong-Potomac into five turnovers in the third quarter. The Tigers scored nine of their 20 points in the period off of turnovers as they went on a 14-2 run to turn a four-point deficit into an eight-point advantage. And after Tanner Cox (seven points, three steals) drained a pair of free throws with 28 seconds to go in the third, the Tigers outscored the Trojans 19-4 for the remainder of the contest.
Cox scored all of his points in the second half. Kyle Brazas finished the game with six points, two assists and two steals, and Layn White scored four and grabbed seven rebounds. Five were in the second half.
Millis said the difference between the two halves was simply playing smarter and being more patient on offense.
“In the first half, we had open shots,” Millis said. “But we got open shots so early in the offense, and the shots weren’t going in. So when you’re getting open shots early from 17- or 18-foot and they won’t drop, it’s hard to teach kids that an open shot is not always the right shot. It’s very difficult to understand that. You can get that same shot after seven or eight passes, and maybe get the ball inside for a little bit higher-percentage shot. I thought we were just a little bit tight on offense.
“I thought our defensive intensity midway through the third quarter got us some easy baskets,” he continued. “Once we got some easy baskets, I thought we became more patient on offense, and low and behold, you get a little more patient on offense, you wear the other team down a little bit and the shots get a little bit easier.”
Armstrong-Potomac was led in scoring by Shawn Johnson who scored 10 points, but was perhaps most important to his team on the boards where he grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds with 11 coming on the defensive glass.
The Trojans have yet to win a game this season, but that didn’t give the Tigers a reason to overlook them.
“I’ve scouted that team four times this year, and even though they haven’t won a ballgame, I told our kid that they are very, very dangerous,” Millis said. “They have some very nice players on that team. They are a very nice offensive team. “
Westville has now won seven of its last nine games, and will attempt to extend its latest winning streak to seven on Tuesday in a 6:30 p.m. game against Hoopeston Area. The Trojans will also be back in action on Tuesday taking on Bismarck-Henning at 5 p.m.