BY CHAD DARE
The difference between winning and losing are the little things.
That was never more evident than Friday night as the Normal Community Ironmen extended their win streak to 11 games with a 59-39 victory over the Danville Vikings.
The Ironmen finished with 19 assists on 25 baskets, while the Vikings had just four assists on 16 baskets.
“I don’t know if that is us not passing the ball well as much as it is that we can’t shoot,” Danville coach Ted Houpt said. “I thought we had some good looks, we just can’t make shots.
“We are not going to get many assists if we don’t make baskets.”
But Normal Community, which improved to 15-6 overall and 8-2 in the Big 12, got 11 of their assists in the second half when the Ironmen made 70 percent of their shots from the field (14-of-20).
“That means they are getting layups,” Houpt said. “They were running their offense, and working well together.
“It’s true, that we are not doing that. Defensively, we are a half step slow on every move defensively, so they are getting layups and assists. If you pass it a few times, we will break down. We are the ones that are supposed to have the athletes, but they are quicker than we are, because they are just reacting while we are watching and then moving. Our speed doesn’t do us any good if it isn’t focused.”
Houpt pointed out that his team is playing hard, but being a half-second slower than their opponents is a problem with focus.
“Even when we dove on the floor, it was right after they did. It wasn’t before them. That’s sort of where we are at right now,” he said. “They are doing all the little things and we’re not. I will always shoulder that blame, but it’s time for the players to step up.”
Danville senior forward Daniel Carter admits the Vikings, who fall to 3-16 overall and 2-9 in the Big 12, need to play smarter and quicker.
“We let them move the ball in their offense and then we try to run and close out on them,” he said. “By the time we are getting there, it’s too late. We are giving up easy shots when we should be quick enough to get there and play defense.”
And while playing defense, running the offense and passing the ball are all important parts of the game, Houpt said that ultimately making shots is the most important part.
Danville shot just 32.7 percent (16-of-49) from the field and the Vikings were a dismal 4-of-17 from the 3-point arc.
“The one thing that stands out, especially in the first half, we can’t make baskets,” said Houpt, whose team made just 7-of-26 shots in the first two quarters. “We can’t make shots. We can’t even dunk. If you don’t put the ball in the hole, nothing else in the world matters.”
The Vikings looked like they were off to a quick start when Jarhed Watson buried a 3-pointer on Danville’s first possession, followed by Carter’s steal and breakaway. But the 6-foot-4 senior slammed the ball off the rim and Normal Community responded with a 6-0 run.
“Instead of us being up 5-0 and feeling really good, we got that bad feeling from the missed dunk,” Houpt said. “It was a momentum thing.”
This time, Danville came back with a 6-0 run of its own to take a 9-6 lead. After that, the Ironmen took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Zach Thompson to end the first quarter.
“When we are not making our shots, we start to hang our heads a little and that’s when we give up those easy baskets,” Carter admitted. “We’re not playing in the games the same way that we are playing in practice.”
And that’s something this group and its coach will attempt to change before this season is over.
“This group is practicing really hard and their attitude is great considering the season,” Houpt said. “We are ready for each game and we usually start out pretty well, like we did tonight, but we just lose our focus, and we turn into another team and not the team that I’m seeing in practice or at the start of the games.
“It’s the little things. Overall, it’s not terrible, but those little things add up.”
Danville’s Marcus Merriweather was the team’s leading scorer with 11 points coming off the bench as Merriweather was 4-of-13 from the field. Carter finished with five points and game-high 11 rebounds.
Trevor Seibring was the leading scorer for Normal Community with 11, while Alex Peacock had 10 and Callen Boddie had nine points and a game-high six assists.
Boddie, Seibring and Marquet Newsome combined for 14 assists, while Danville had just one assist from four different players.
The Vikings are back in action on Monday against the Urbana Tigers at Danville High School as last Tuesday’s game between the two teams was postponed because of a bad boiler. The sophomore game will start at 6 p.m. while the varsity contest is tentatively scheduled to tipoff at 7:30 p.m.
In the sophomore contest, Normal Community defeated Danville 47-35. Allann Davidson made five 3-pointers in the second half to lead the Vikings with 15 points.