The Effingham-St. Anthony Thanksgiving Tournament was essentially a weeklong varsity boot camp for an inexperienced Vandalia boys basketball team.
And just like real-life basic training, the experience was demanding and downright unpleasant at times - yet still positive in the long run, as the Vandals emerged from the tournament a stronger team despite an 0-4 record.
"We knew this week was going to be a tough week," said Vandals coach Kevin Jackson of a tournament in which a Vandals team featuring just two players with significant varsity experience took on four Class 3A teams.
"We've just got to keep working," Jackson added. "That's all we can do."
After opening the season with a lopsided loss to the host Bulldogs last Monday, the Vandals were very competitive in two of their next three games, falling to Taylorville on Wednesday, 36-33, and Mahomet-Seymour on Saturday, 63-52.
An unexpected barrage of 3-pointers by Charleston contributed to a 71-38 loss on Friday.
The Vandals saw improvement in their shooting and offensive execution with each passing game, however, hitting 50 percent from the field in their finale against Mahomet-Seymour.
Unfortunately, turnovers plagued Vandalia in each contest, as the Vandals averaged 22 giveaways a game, many of which fueled opposition runs.
"When we turn it over we start rushing a little bit, playing a little faster than we should and we need to," Jackson said.
The Vandals will return to action Friday when they will host East Alton-Wood River in their home opener.
The Vandals rallied from early deficits of 10-0 and 17-5 to pull within one point of the lead, 30-29, on a Mitch Johnson bank shot early in the third quarter.
But the Bulldogs responded with a 12-2 run and cruised the rest of the way. Turnovers fueled the run, as Vandalia had seven giveaways during the decisive rally.
The Vandals also struggled with turnovers in the first quarter, coughing the ball up on their first four possessions to help the Bulldogs race out to a 10-0 lead.
But the Vandals settled down late in the first quarter, playing their best basketball of the young season.
A 12-2 Vandalia run made it a one-possession game late in the second quarter, but the Vandals never quite got over the hump.
Despite the loss, Jackson saw a number of positives in the Vandals' tournament finale, first and foremost being his team's effort.
"That's the No. 1 thing," Jackson said. "You've got to have great effort before anything else takes place. We don't have a great margin for error.
"I think the effort was better (than Friday). We got after it on both ends of the floor a little bit better. We just got beat today."
In scoring a season-high 52 points, the Vandals were excellent from the floor (50 percent), which Jackson credited to increased aggressiveness.