BY AARON PATTERSON
Four full weeks of practice and conditioning had the Westville Tigers itching to see live game action. Needless to say, they were anxious to get onto the court Tuesday against the Villa Grove Blue Devils.
At times, the excitement for both teams showed through excessive turnovers and poor shooting early, but once the Tigers got the feel for the game, they cruised to a 49-30 win.
“You always want to start off with a win if you can, but we’ve certainly got room to improve,” Westville coach Jeff Millis said. “That’s the good thing about it. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to playing the kind of ball that I think we’re capable of. But, I thought for the first game, I thought we were adequate.”
After struggling through much of the first quarter, the Tigers ended the first half on a 9-0 run on back-to-back threes from Kyle Brazas, and one from Robert Elliott. Jeffery Thompson hit another three for Westville’s first points of the third quarter, and by the three-minute mark of the period, the Tigers had built a 31-19 lead. Then, Dalton Hilligoss beat the third-quarter buzzer with the team’s sixth three of the game to extend its lead to 37-24.
The Blue Devils (0-2) found themselves in early foul trouble, and were forced to play a zone for much of the second and third quarters. But it didn’t slow the Tigers as they went on their run against the new defense.
“It’s one of those situations where, if the status quo doesn’t work, you’ve got to change something,” said first year Villa Grove coach Brian Russell, who made his first trip back to Vermilion County after previously coaching at Armstrong-Potomac and Westville as an assistant coach. “At the time, we were getting into some foul trouble so we went to the zone. It took Elliott out of his game a little bit, but it let some other people (score). That’s what a good team does. It finds other ways to score.”
Brazas scored 11 of his game high 13 points in the second and third quarters and was a perfect three of three from three-point range.
While the zone didn’t bother the Tigers, the Blue Devils were forced into 23 total turnovers — 10 were from traveling violations and six were from steals. Westville took advantage by scoring 13 points off turnovers.
“Anytime you turn the ball over, you’re giving up two points that you could have scored, and you’re giving them a chance to score two,” Russell said. “Basically, it’s a four-point swing. Anytime you turn the ball over that many times, it’s going to be hard to win.”
Lucas Vandeventer had a team high eight points for the Blue Devils while Gabe Palmer had seven points and three steals.
Thompson finished with eight points, five rebounds and four steals for the Tigers, Layn White scored 12 and had seven boards, and Elliott put up eight points and grabbed six rebounds.
The win was reassuring for the Tigers who, though they are happy to be 1-0, look forward to continuing to improve. While many teams played in tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Tigers remained in the practice gym.
“I think it helped,” Brazas said of the extra practice time. “It doesn’t help in some ways, too, because you don’t get that game experience, but we also get to work on more in practice than we do in the game. If we can make practice harder than the games, then the game seems easier.”
The Tigers will get a few days to practice this week before hosting St. Joseph-Ogden on Saturday.