- By Evan Merrill Sports Editor
- Mt. Carmel Register
MOUNT CARMEL -- One thing's for sure, Wabash Valley College Men's Basketball Coach Mike Carpenter prefers not to have his team play games during finals week.
"I'd like to petition the NJCAA not to play during finals week in the future," Carpenter joked. "We've had final exams this week, we wrapped them up today, we haven't done a whole lot in practice because of that."
Carpenter went on to note that he typically won't schedule his team games this week, but they instead had one due to how the conference schedule fell this year.
Fortunately they finished all of their finals on Wednesday, so they won't have any mental strain from cramming for finals week for quite some time, but the Warriors endured a sluggish start likely as a side effect.
Lake Land stuck with the Wabash Valley for much of the first half until the Warriors came alive in the second half, scoring a 95-79 victory over their conference foe on Wednesday night at Wabash Valley College's Spencer Sports Center.
Their understandably slow start allowed the Lakers to build a 13-7 lead just five minutes into the game. Defensively the Warriors (5-5) were surrendering too many easy drives in their man-to-man defense, and offensively they struggled to convert some easy looks around the basket.
They'd start to turn that around, largely thanks to sophomore guard Marcus Garrett.
Garrett became instant offense for the Warriors and was shooting extremely efficient. He scored six straight to tie the game back up at 13-13, just six points in what would be a monstrous first half for Garrett.
Lake Land would take a 30-27 lead before the Warriors started to really piece it together collectively. Freshman forward Darius Osborne tied the game at 30-30 with a 3-pointer, followed by a pair of free throws by sophomore Bobby Harvey to put the Warriors ahead 32-30.
Garrett would close the half for the Warriors by scoring eight of the final 10 points. They'd close on a 15-5 run in the final three minutes to seize a 42-35 halftime lead.
"Coach Isaac [Wodajo] told them at halftime, if we don't hit some shots there at the end we're probably down at the half," Carpenter said. "It was one of those deals where we got a few stops in a row and the offense clicked like it had been. That was the first time all half that we had both working at the same time."
Garrett led the Warriors at the break with 19 points on an efficient 64 percent shooting clip.
Though he was pleased with how the half concluded, Carpenter preached for his team to piece together a more consistent performance in the second half, rather than turning it on for the final minutes.
"We told them at halftime," Carpenter recollected. "You get to write your history here, do you want to be the team that played like this for a whole game, or be a team that made an adjustment and played better in the second half and they most certainly did."
With as much as their man-to-man had struggled at times, Carpenter elected to switch to a zone to open the second half. It turned out to be a good call, as it gave the Lakers fits.
"I don't know if it's the zone or the guys out there, but it's been good to us lately," Carpenter said. "They're doing a good job of getting out to shooters and making them shoot quicker than they want to shoot. The coverages have been good, we have a few ways we play it depending on how the offense moves. Our guys did a really good job tonight of adjusting to the zone on the fly."
Lake Land couldn't seem to find lanes to penetrate into the zone, stuffed with lengthy Warrior defenders. The Warriors went on a 10-2 run out of the gate to increase the margin to 52-39. Sophomore big Amir Yusuf had a strong showing over the stretch, scoring six points in the first few minutes.
As Wabash Valley's lead steadily continued to trickle up, reaching as high as a 24-point lead, Carpenter elected to insert some of his reserves to allow them to gain much needed experience.
Once the reserves entered however, Lake Land went on a 19-3 stretch to reduce the lead down to 77-69, forcing Carpenter's hand in sending some of his starters back onto the court.
Osborne, though he wasn't in the starting rotation, became a steady piece late in the game, knocking down a trey to end the run and blocking three shots down the stretch. Osborne's defense on Lake Land's Clint Weber was a point that stood out to Carpenter, who was highly complimentary of Osborne's low-post defense.
"I just saw that he was getting weak side offensive rebounds in the zone," Osborne said. "So when I got in I wanted to wall up and use my length to block his shot."
With the starters back in order was restored, allowing the Warriors to coast once again to victory.
Five Warriors ended in double-figures scoring, including Garrett scoring a game-high 23 points with seven boards. Bobby Harvey was next highest with 19 points, but strong contributions also came from Yusuf (12 points), Jejuan Weatherspoon (11 points, 12 boards), sophomore Raekwon Drake (11 points, eight boards), and Osborne (eight points, three blocks).
Offensively, tonight's second half effort may have been their best of the season. They shot an astounding 66.7 percent from the field, including 55.6 percent from three. Oddly enough, they shot higher percentages from the field (66.7 percent) and 3-point line (55.6 percent) than they did the charity stripe (47.1 percent) in the second half. Still, it's an encouraging display for the Warriors.
"They were open looks, they were not forces," Carpenter spoke of his team's shot selection. "There were two or three forces in the first 11 minutes when we were out of it. We were playing like we did the first week of the season, settling for shots and not getting into the paint. When you take open shots they're a lot easier to make. I look at the second half field goal percentage of 67 percent. We were moving the ball and the right guys were shooting it."
Now sitting with a 5-5 record and their 2019 slate almost complete, the Warriors will face one of their toughest conference challenges yet, John A. Logan.
"They're pretty talented," Carpenter spoke of Logan. "We're looking forward to the challenge, it's early but we'll see what happens on Saturday. I know one thing, our guys aren't going to be afraid of them. We'll look forward to that, glad finals are over and move on and get ready for a very good John A. Logan team on Saturday."
Saturday's road contest at Logan will begin at 3 p.m.