WINONA LAKE — It wasn’t a win, but after a rough finish at Argos less than 24 hours prior, the Cougars’ down-to-the-wire thriller with Hamilton in the nightcap of Saturday’s girls/ boys doubleheader was certainly a step forward.
Host Lakeland Christian whittled persistent double-digit deficits all the way down to a single possession with a little more than 10 seconds remaining but could never quite get out front in a 69-62 loss to the visiting Marines. It wasn’t a win, but after Friday night’s 70-29 blowout loss, it did seem like something of a moral victory for the Cougars.
“We didn’t want to let last night’s game cause us to lose tonight’s game. I thought we responded well,” said LCA coach Chris Hohm. “We played well. We definitely have things that we need to work on. It’s a game that, it’s good to be in the game, but it’s also one that’s going to drive us going forward because I think we’ll look back on this as a missed opportunity. Which is OK. We can take that as motivation leading forward and see what that can lead to.”
The finish was tighter than the eventual seven-point margin suggested.
Trailing much of the night, LCA cut its deficit to just two points with Trenton Parker’s lay-in off a Landon Twombly assist with just 11.7 seconds left on the game clock. Hamilton’s Marko Stanojcic was whistled for a foul on the play, and the ensuing Parker free throw would have cut Hamilton’s lead to a single point, but an LCA lane violation nullified the charity toss. Facing fullcourt Cougar pressure, Stanojcic caught the Marines’ inbounds pass and converted a pair of free throws on the other end to push his team’s lead back out to two possessions. Hamilton closed out the game on a 5-0 spurt, and Nick Johnson’s steal near halfcourt and quick lay-in provided the exclamation point at the buzzer.
“It was a good game. Back and forth, pretty evenly-matched teams, which was good. It’s exciting when that happens because then whichever team plays better comes out with the win,” said Hohm.
“I thought we did a really good job to claw back in it, but then in the moment we needed to make the right play, their players made the play. We tried to deny hard on (Stanojcic) and (Bailey Merritt) and (Stanojcic) catches it so then he gets to shoot the free throws. Missed opportunities. We knew what we needed to do; we just didn’t get the job done tonight.”
Stanojcic was key in his team’s win, putting up a game-high 27 points to go with nine rebounds. Both his offensive output and his rebounding effort were big early as Hamilton (1-2) answered a game-opening 8-0 run by the Cougars (1-3) with a 21-4 run that put the visitors out front for good.
“Our pre-game talk was all about protecting the paint. The problem with that was (Stanojcic) was fast, and we started trying to guard him at the 3-point line instead of getting back in position,” explained Hohm.
“Too often we were trying to play defense on him in spaces where he wasn’t going to score and giving him open looks.”
While Hamilton had three players in double figures in Stanojcic’s 27, Merrit’s 20, and Alex Thain’s 13, the Cougars got a good one-two punch from Twombly and Jake Harmon, each of whom dropped 24 points.
Twombly’s dribble penetration also helped create for his teammates as he handed out four assists, while Harmon lit it up from outside with six 3-pointers — many well beyond the arc — for the home team.
“Landon and Jake do a great job of carrying the scoring load for us. We’ve just got to find ways to create easier looks for some of our other guys so that we can get them in the scoring column as well,” Hohm said.
Braxton Keller scored six, and Cameron Shepherd chipped in four points, but that was about it for LCA’s offensive production. Still, after being held under 30 at Argos Friday night, Saturday’s 62-point output was a game to grow on.
“Last night Argos defensively was just very good at helping. We didn’t have driving lanes last night so they made it difficult on us that way,” recalled Hohm. “Tonight we had some lanes to drive so that helps creating for ourselves and for others. So that was the biggest difference. We still missed some shots that we normally would make tonight, and a couple of those changed the game, but, yeah, it was good to see the ball go in the hole compared to last night.”
LCA hosts Benton HomeSchool Tuesday at 7 p.m.