PLYMOUTH — It’s been a tough stretch for Wawasee basketball. Injuries, illness and other issues haven’t made it any easier, and that fact was on full display in Plymouth Friday night.
The host Pilgrims jumped on short-handed Wawasee early and never let up in a 68-29 Northern Lakes Conference win at The Rock, the Warriors most lopsided loss of the season.
“We certainly feel like we took a couple steps backward but not due to something that we can control. I tell our guys every season you deal with injuries and you deal with sickness, and in high school athletics you deal with a little bit of drama,” said Wawasee coach Jon Everingham. “You have to be able to understand that you have to be able to deal with adversity. Tonight I thought we played hard. I’m not disappointed; we were just really short-handed.”
With Jacob Hand and Aaron Evans out with the flu and Bennet Hoffert absent for personal reasons, Plymouth (9-6, 2-2 NLC) was able to focus its efforts on senior Trevon Coleman, who was ultimately held to 3 of 8 shots and nine points in Plymouth. He added six rebounds and two steals, but with the Pilgrims pushing him off the blocks over the first half and the Warriors surrendering 13 turnovers for 10 Plymouth points at halftime, Everingham used Coleman more in the backcourt in the second half, which did help Wawasee (3-10, 1-3 NLC) cut those turnovers by four over the final two frames — they finished with 21 — but did little to help a team already struggling to score the ball inside.
“He was our best ball handling option. He’s our best inside option. He’s our best wing option,” Everingham said of Coleman. “When you’re having trouble handling the ball, we’ve got to give up something. So we kind of brought him out to the perimeter and then we really had trouble getting the ball inside. Once you move him out it’s like picking your poison sometimes.”
“They have a heck of a player in Coleman,” said Plymouth coach Ryan Bales. “I know they’re a little shorthanded with some injuries and sickness. I’m sure that played a role — they had to put some guys in some new roles tonight — but the game plan was to take away number 40, and I think our defense answered that. We got some things in the full court; we were able to pressure their guards but yet still keep them in front. They’ll respond at some point, I’m sure. They’ve got to get healthy.”
The Pilgrims scored 10 unanswered points to start the game before Coleman’s pull-up 3-pointer from the top of the key put Wawasee on the board at the 5:19 mark of the first. The situation wasn’t made any easier for the Warriors when point guard Cayden Wegener was cut on a play inside at the 2:42 stop of the opening stanza, one of two early, extended stops for blood on the floor after Plymouth big Garrett Tharp was similarly cut just over a minute into the game.
Junior forward Cole Filson helped key the Pilgrim offense early with nine of their first-period points, and junior guard Clay Hilliard scored seven of his 10 first-half points in the second stanza as Plymouth opened up a 30-12 halftime cushion.
“Give credit to Plymouth because they knew we were wounded, and they weren’t going to give us an ounce of confidence. They took it to us early, and you would expect an NLC team to do just that,” said Everingham.
“To play a team that at times will slow it down — they tend to be very patient — it’s important to get off to a quick start. I think with our guys, Cole was a big part of that early,” said Bales. “We found him early. He finished strong early — the very first play of the game had a great take. If we can get him going early and get some other guys going early, it opens up some things for our main shooters.”
The Pilgrims kept their foot on the pedal over the second half. They already led by 20 at the 6:27 mark of the third period, and Hilliard’s steal and fast break lay-up with 2:19 remaining in the quarter pushed that advantage out to more than 30 points at 49-18. The Wawasee defense — which attempted a box and one and some zone before settling into man coverage at Plymouth — had no answer for Hilliard in the second half as he knocked down each and every one of his shots from the floor en route to a game-high 28 points to go with five steals.
“He played pretty smooth tonight, and I think he still played within himself,” said Bales of Hilliard. “That’s the thing that I like about him, that he gave it up and got it back and trusted it. Our other guys did a great job of finding him for some assists, other guys had great screens, but I think also he probably had an opportunity for three or four assists if we finished some shots as well. The fact that he got a lot of points doesn’t reflect the fact that he had a great floor game overall.”
Wawasee’s own number 12 gave his team a bright spot as sophomore Austin Miller scored 11 points as the only Warrior to crack double figures at the game.
“I think every team kind of goes through it — a week or a week and a half of trying to get everybody through the flu. It’s something you have to deal with so tonight we got some younger players some varsity action, and if anything they realized that playing at the varsity level is really difficult. Hopefully it spurs them to want to get better,” Everingham said. “Austin Miller became the focal point tonight, and Evan Eschbach got his first start. Those are valuable minutes, and so hopefully those guys will kind of take that and run with it and want to get better for next year, when they’ll be key contributors to our basketball team.”
While Plymouth won its fourth straight, Friday’s loss was Wawasee’s sixth straight and the third straight game the Warriors have fallen short of 30 points. They’ll take a break from a demanding NLC schedule with Bethany Christian at home at the Hardwood Tepee Tuesday night. It’s a game with good prospects for Wawasee to snap its current skid against a 2-9, Class A team, but winning isn’t the team’s main concern right now, says Everingham.
“Winning at this point is not really what we’re talking about. We’re just trying to get everybody healthy, honestly, and I know it’s a cliche but take it one day at a time, try to get guys healthy and whoever is healthy on Tuesday will go out and fight like heck,” he said.
“I thought our guys fought tonight. We did not play good basketball. There’s no question about it, we did not play good basketball tonight, but we really fought.”
Plymouth takes a week off before resuming NLC play with Northridge next Friday night.
In Friday’s JV action, Plymouth also came out on top, 38-31. Marshall Miller scored a trio of 3s on his way to a team-high 11 for the JV Warriors, while Chris Strombeck and Ethan Hardy each chipped in seven. Tim Tremaine scored 12, and Jake Reichard finished with 10 to lead the Pilgrims.