WINONA LAKE — The relationship between confidence and winning can be a tricky thing.
When teams don’t believe they can win, they often won’t. On the other hand, it’s usually winning that breeds confidence, and it can be difficult to break the cycle.
Grace College’s young men’s basketball team seems to be stuck in just such a loop right now, and the Lancers lost their third straight — and sixth in the past seven games — to a physical Indiana Tech squad Thursday night, 92-63. The No. 6 Warriors used a 57-32 first half to take control and cruised over the second half for their third straight win on the road at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
“Certain things happen to you throughout the season, and it fosters a sense of confidence and playing together. We’ve had several games where we were there, and we let it get away and then it’s been hard to muster the same kind of intensity and believe in each other to the extent that we need to,” explained Grace head coach Jim Kessler.
“It’s a funny thing, confidence is. The only way to get confident is to have success. Success breeds confidence, and we’re just struggling that way now. Part of it is youth, and part of it is just where we are — we’re just not a very good basketball team right now. We have to get better.”
With Grace (6-8) still out front with under 15 minutes to go in the first half, Tech (11-2) used nine unanswered points and a 17-2 run to take the lead and push it to double figures all in one spurt. Of those nine straight points, seven came on second chances as the Warriors hauled in eight offensive rebounds for 15 second chance points before the break. The visitors finished the night with a 46-28 rebounding advantage in a performance that Kessler said was both disappointing and uncharacteristic of his team.
“They pounded us in the paint. Some of the statistics that we put on the board that we wanted to do, one of them we wanted to rebound big. They out-boarded us almost double — 46-28. That doesn’t happen to us; we normally out-rebound our opponent, but tonight we were not a very good rebounding team,” he said.
“We just didn’t do the job on the boards tonight, and usually we’re pretty good there. The second-chance baskets tonight, those were not good.”
Tech’s dominance on the boards was part of a larger theme that emerged Thursday night — the Warriors’ dominance in the paint. All told, a generally bigger, stronger and older Tech team put up 56 of its points in the paint, high percentage shots that led to 38-of-71 (53.5 percent) scoring efficiency at Grace. The Lancers, by contrast, scored just 28 points inside the lane and scuffled to a 22 of 60 (36.7 percent) scoring clip from the floor.
“I told the guys before the game this is going to be like going to your high school gym, and it’s the guy that works in the Pepsi truck and the guy that works in the factory and the guy who farms all day. He’s got you by five, six years, and he’s got you by 20 pounds, and he’s just going to pound you. You’re going to think he’s fouling you, but they’re not. They’re tougher; they’re stronger,” Kessler said.
Grace played pretty evenly with its guests over a 35-31 second half. Much of the difference came on the defensive end, where the Lancers limited the Warriors to 15 of 36 (41.7 percent) shooting after allowing the visitors 23 of 35 (65.7 percent) conversions before the break and battled for 13 defensive rebounds while surrendering just four offensive caroms to the visitors. But with Tech leading by 31 points with only 7:12 remaining, it was too late to make up the deficit.
“I think we actually did play a little harder in the second half, hopefully played a little smarter,” said Kessler.
“The second half we just picked up a little intensity, but it’s too late. You’re down 20, and it goes to 30 and then it’s over.”
While junior guard Dylan Phair led Tech in the scoring column with 20 points to go with three assists, 6’8” forward Darren Groves finished with 19 points, and Phair’s backcourt mate Edmond Early, junior notched 15. Sophomore forward Max Huber finished with 10 as the fourth Warrior in double figures Thursday.
Freshman guard Matt Jennings provided the Lancers with a bright spot on offense, scoring game- and career-highs of 25 points off the bench. Jennings knocked down 4 of 8 shots for 13 of those points before halftime.
“He likes to score. He can score. We need to find ways to get him more shots, probably,” said Kessler of Jennings.
Logan Godfrey finished with 12 points as the only other Grace player in double figures, and he hauled in a team-high seven rebounds patrolling the interior, while fellow forward Cody Holmes gave his team a defensive spark down low.
Grace looks to snap its skid as it heads down to Florida for a pair of games at Webber International and Warner on Dec. 18 and 19. Kessler is hoping the change in scenery can lead to a change in outcomes for his team before it returns to a tough Crossroads League schedule with No. 2-ranked St. Francis at home on Jan. 3.
“We’ll take our little trip to Florida, and maybe we’ll get a little relief, get our confidence going, come back and jump into a tough conference,” said Kessler.
“We just need to get a couple ‘W’s and get some confidence going, and maybe we’ll turn it around.”