EFFINGHAM – Under normal circumstances, 53 percent shooting from the field is more than good enough to earn a victory.
And that’s the shooting percentage the new-look VCHS boys basketball team finished with Monday night in its season opener.
But, unfortunately for the Vandals, there was nothing normal about the circumstances they found themselves in against the host team at the Effingham-St. Anthony Thanksgiving Tournament.
Facing a team many feel could be state-bound on its home court, the Vandals struggled mightily against the Bulldogs’ full-court press and relentless man-to-man pressure defense, as 28 turnovers proved to be the difference in a 67-39 loss.
St. Anthony wound up scoring 37 points off those giveaways, resulting in an outcome that was undeniably unsightly, but not entirely surprising – and nowhere as bleak as it may seem.
‘We new they were going to be good,’ said Vandalia coach Kevin Jackson, who is replacing all five starters from last year’s team. ‘They’re going to be one of the better teams we play all year – and we had to play them in Night 1.
‘But we learned a little bit about ourselves. Now, we’ll move forward.’
One of the things the Vandals learned was that they can be effective in their half-court sets. Vandalia made its first three field goal attempts and finished a very respectable 15 for 28 from the field.
But the key for the Vandals will be getting into their half-court sets.
It certainly didn’t help that St. Anthony succeeded in establishing breakneck tempo that had Vandalia’s inexperienced guards flustered from the get-go.
‘That was one of the things we were afraid of, that they would come in and pressure us man (-to-man),’ Jackson said. ‘If they pressure us zone, that’s something we can handle, because we can pass through it. If you pressure man, that forces you to put the ball on the floor a little more, which is not a strength of ours.’
Still, despite five quick turnovers, the Vandals trailed by just three, 9-6, with three minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
But their inability to take care of the ball soon caught up to them in the form of a 16-0 St. Anthony run over the next four minutes of play.
The Bulldogs couldn’t seem to miss during the stretch, which allowed them to get into their full-court press. The combination led to snowball effect for the inexperienced Vandals.
St. Anthony finished the first quarter with a 23-6 lead, hitting 9 of 12 from the field while forcing 10 Vandalia turnovers. The Vandals tried again and again to slow the game down, but St. Anthony refused to cooperate.
‘They did a good job of getting us into that (fast-paced game),’ Jackson said. ‘We have to play at our pace a little bit better and slow things down.’
Vandalia settled down a bit in the second half, outscoring St. Anthony 15-14 in the third quarter. But after briefly getting the Bulldogs’ lead under 20 on a pair of Drew Bell free throws early in the four quarter, St. Anthony closed out the game on a 13-3 run.
Despite the final score, there were a number of positives for Vandalia. Will Cowger and Austin Wollerman each scored in double figures in their first varsity starts, finishing with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Jackson was also pleased with the play of sophomore point guard Dylan Durr off the bench in the second half.
‘There were some decent things that happened,’ Jackson said. ‘It’s hard for people sitting up here (in the stands) to pick out, because all they see is that we got our rear ends kicked by 28. And we did. I’m not trying to paint that a rosier picture than it is.
‘But we’re going to learn from this. We will get better. That’s all we can do.’