HARTVILLE The season has been a learning process for the Lake Center Christian Tigers.
With a 4-5 record through their first eight games, the Tigers have garnered some solid wins, but they’ve also suffered some tough losses that have them at .500 nearing the midpoint of the campaign. A recent two-point win over Waterloo illustrated where LCC stands eight games in, with a 44-42 final score indicating the grinding, slow pace that defined the contest.
“I think we did a great job getting as much juice as possible out of the way we played,” first-year LCC head coach Philip Budervic said. “I give Waterloo a lot of credit because they have a very nice team and they’re very well coached.”
The contest showed how LCC would respond on a night when its offense wasn’t firing on all cylinders. After pushing out to a 27-26 halftime edge, the Tigers saw the second half devolve into a defensive battle in the final 16 minutes. LCC’s leading scorer, John Paul Miller, didn’t have his best shooting night despite scoring 14 points.
Fortunately for the Tigers, junior forward Jacob Ickes scored half of his team’s points, amassing 22 on the night and functioning well as one of several front court players who received the ball in the high post and were able to make things happen from there.
“We did a good job of getting the ball into the high post and taking it from there,” Budervic said.
The decisive point in the game came during a timeout with about four minutes left. Budervic, seeing that his team wasn’t shooting the ball well enough to securely hold the lead down the stretch, told his players that they would hold the ball as much as possible and stall on offense, forcing Waterloo to foul them.
The strategy worked in a quarter in which the two teams combined for just 12 points, as LCC made just enough free throws down the stretch to hold off the host Vikings. Telling a huddle full of high school athletes that they’re not going to shoot the ball in the final minutes of a close game can be a hard sell, but the Tigers stuck with the strategy and were able to spin enough clock and be proficient enough from the charity stripe to hang on for the win.
It elevated them to 2-1 in league play (a loss to Crestwood later in the week dropped the mark to 2-2) and in the thick of the fight for the Portage Trail Conference County Division title. Still, making sure players have the right mindset for each segment of the season has been an ongoing endeavor for the coaching staff.
“We’re trying to get them to understand that you need to prioritize the season. You play a good out-of-conference schedule to prepare you for your league games and our goal is to win the league or be as high as we can in the standings,” Budervic said. “Then you use the league to prepare yourself for success in the tournament.”
As a Division IV program, LCC often finds itself facing bigger schools, both in PTC games and out of conference. However, the Tigers have good size for a small-school program, with four players 6-foot-4 or taller. Ickes and seniors David Underation and Jared Ritenour give LCC an imposing front line and 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Payton Triplett is another low post option off the bench.
That size, Budervic noted, has helped LCC play well against bigger schools and not have to worry about getting dominated inside due to a lack of height. However, height doesn’t automatically translate into good rebounding and trying to get the team to embrace a differ approaching to grabbing rebounds has been another part of the learning process.
“We have good size, but we’re trying to teach them the proper techniques of rebounding,” Budervic said. “We’ve seen the effects on our opponents early in the season, but not as much as I think we well later in the season.”
The approach the coaching staff has reinforced to the players is boxing out first and then going up for rebounds at a 45-degree angle. Most players, Budervic said, want to emulate high risers in the NBA who have the vertical leaping ability to go straight up in the air and grab caroms.
Instilling the habit of boxing out and attacking the ball at that 45-degree angle might not be as exciting as jumping straight up as high as possible, but for a tall LCC front court, it’s yielding encouraging results. It’s worth noting that the Tigers are still less than halfway through their first season under their new head coach and any coaching change produces a transition period that takes time for both players and coaches to adjust.
Although its 2-3 non-league record isn’t what LCC wanted from its start to the season, PTC play has seen the Tigers trend in the right direction and with a month and a half left in the season, there’s more time ahead to learn and grow.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB