BY JOHN DUBOIS
The Hoopeston Area Cornjerkers pulled away in the second half and advanced to the fifth place game at the Vermilion County Tournament with a 45-30 win over the Armstrong-Potomac Trojans.
Mason Layden led the way with a game high 20 points, with Daniel Lawson adding 11 points. The Cornjerkers led by two points at halftime and gradually built their lead as Layden and Lawson combined to score 20 of their points in the second half.
Brennan Crose added nine points and Bryce Leigh chipped in with five points off the bench.
The Cornjerkers move to 3-17 on the season and have shown progress under first year coach Matt Colston following a four-win season last year.
“We have had some close games and come up short, but we were able to close out this game when we got the lead,” he said. “That is important for us in the process of learning how to win. We need as many games as we can get and it’s important for us to be able to play in the fifth place game to gain some more experience. We are still learning, and repetition in game situations is the way you get better as a team.”
Wade Rogers hit a late three as the Trojans rallied to tie the score at 7-7 after one quarter. Layden was held scoreless in the first 8 minutes.
“It was a good sign for us that we were able to win a game where Mason got off to a slow start,” Colston said. “We had other guys step up with Brennan Crose and Bryce Leigh each having nice games.
“Brennan has a great motor and is a real spark plug for us. He had struggled in the first two games at the tournament. Bryce is a sophomore and is still adjusting to the speed of the varsity game overall but he has a lot of ability and we are expecting big things from him in the future.”
The Cornjerkers would take their largest lead of the first half at 16-12 and took a 20-18 lead into half time. Rogers would score all seven of his points in the first half.
“We played them even in the first half, but we aren’t any better than we were when the tournament started so we can’t really take anything away from the games here,” said Armstrong-Potomac coach Mike Twidwell. “We haven’t been able to translate to the games the way we have played in practice.”
Hoopeston Area would open a 10-point lead in the third quarter on a 3 by Layden and ended the period with a 34-26 lead. The lead was 38-28 with four minutes to go when Colston issued a challenge to his team.
“I challenged our guys to not let them score again and right until the last moments, we were able to do that,” he said. “Our two seniors — Joe Warner and Nick Papanek — made a big impact for us tonight and our defense did a nice job in the second half of creating our offense, which got Daniel Lawson some nice looks.
“Brennan made some nice passes into the post and passing is something we have worked on as a team. We still make mistakes, but we are getting better at it. I talk to the kids a lot about playing like sharks in the water and we are still learning how to play smart, aggressive basketball, but our defense was outstanding tonight. Johnson and Rogers are two good scorers for them and we did a nice job of containing them.”
Twidwell felt his team wore down in the second half.
“We weren’t able to get our starters much rest,” he said “When we get fatigued, that’s it for us.”
The Trojans drop to 0-19 and were eliminated from the tournament. They were led by Shawn Johnson with 10 points.
Armstrong-Potomac will play Oakwood on Tuesday.
The Cornjerkers will play the Georgetown-Ridge Farm Buffaloes in the fifth place game at the Palmer Arena at 5 p.m. Saturday.