CANTON — The Vandalia Community High School boys basketball team made its annual trip for the Canton Thanksgiving Tournament over the weekend, a trip that head coach Brian Buscher chalks up as a learning experience after failing to come away with a win, finishing 0-3.
Vandalia opened up tournament action Friday evening, as they took on Delevan. Nathan Casey nailed a baseline three-pointer to give the Vandals an early lead. However, that would be the last time they lead.
The Panthers answered with a 10-0 run to take a 10-3 lead midway through the first quarter. A a three-pointer and inside layup from Casey would be the extent of the scoring for the Vandals as they went into the second quarter trailing 19-8.
Delevan did not let up from there, putting together a 10-2 run to take a commanding 29-10 lead. Vandalia freshman Trevor Smalls answered with a layup of his own, but the Vandals couldn’t find much consistency on offense, going into the second half with a 33-16 deficit.
The second half wasn't any better for the struggling Vandal squad. Kelly Jones managed four points in the third quarter on a pair of layups, while Richie Well knocked down a three-pointer, which accounted for Vandalia’s third quarter offense as they went into the fourth quarter trailing 44-23.
The Panthers closed out strong, allowing only five fourth-quarter points en route to the lopsided 56-28 victory.
“We were playing with everything out of sync,” Buscher said. “It was just the first quarter killed us. After that, it was a little better, but it was still out-of-sync basketball.”
The Vandals looked to bounce back on Saturday afternoon, drawing a matchup with the host Canton.
Richie Well helped Vandalia out to an early lead, knocking down a three-pointer and converting on a three-point play to give the Vandals a 6-2 lead. The Little Giants finished the first quarter strong, stringing together a 9-2 run to go into the second with an 11-8 lead.
Well continued his strong first half with a three-pointer to tie the game at 11 apiece early in the second quarter. Vandal junior Austin Hebenstreit gave Vandalia a 13-11 lead, as he knocked down a pair of foul shots.
However, their momemtum stalled, as Canton would rebound to take a 25-19 lead going into the second half. Canton held its lead throughout the third, as a three from Well closed out the quarter with the Vandals still trailing 35-29.
A pair of layups from Well and Hebenstreit helped put them within two with a little more than four minutes in the fourth quarter. But, Canton pulled away once again, taking a 39-33 lead with less than three minutes to play.
Smalls managed to find an open Well, who just missed a three that would have pushed Vandalia within a score. From there, the Little Giants would hold on en route to a 41-33 victory.
Despite the loss, Buscher was happy with the effort his team gave.
“Today was probably the best full game we have played this year. We had chances to hit shots at the end and didn’t hit it. At the end of the second quarter, they went on a little run, they sped up a little bit and we slowed down a little bit,” Buscher said. “That might have been the difference in the game, but I think we played them pretty good and I’m proud of our kids for playing the best game so far this year. “
Buscher commented on his team’s struggle to stop a pair of 6-foot, 5-inch Canton forwards.
“Anybody big is going to hurt us. Their success was when they sped up; our rotation slowed. Our challenge was when you have a big team like that, we need to pressure outside more, and when we go and trap, trying to front the guy and get our best rotation,” Buscher said. “But if you don’t have good pressure outside, they are going to lob it to them. So that was where we decided to go a little more zone today and pressure them, and prevent the lob.”
Well led the way in the losing effort, finishing with a team-high 19 points. Other scorers for the Vandals were Jones, with four; Hebenstreit, with four; Smalls, with three; Casey, with two; and Marcus Zimmerman, with one.
Smalls, who did not register any time in the season opener, was on the court for much of the second half after playing three quarters against Delevan. Buscher explained his reasoning in playing the freshman guard.
“(We’re) just trying to get him more up to speed. He has a certain skill set; he can get to bucket and he can make somebody help out,” Buscher said. “He’s still learning, but he has that skill set that one of our guys has besides him. He had a good kick out late to Richie. That’s what we were looking for when we brought him in.”
Vandalia closed out its tournament action Saturday evening with a matchup against IVC.
IVC came out firing on offense, knocking down a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter. The Vandals cold not muster up much offense, as they went into second quarter with a 22-9 deficit.
IVC continued to pour it on in the second quarter, outscoring the Vandals in the stanza, 17-11, as it went into halftime with a 39-20 lead.
The Vandals were able to score the first basket in the second half, but the success was short-lived, with IVC continuing to push the pace and extend its lead to 59-32 at the end of three quarters.
With the majority of the IVC starters on the bench for the fourth, Vandalia came storming back. Down 71-42 late in the fourth, Vandalia put together a 14-2 run to cut the IVC lead to 73-56.
However, It was too little too late, as IVC held on to win its final game 76-64.
“We seem like we have a game like this every year. It was not a pretty game, but somehow kids start playing hard. Maybe this is going to be a game that chalks them up to play harder all the time,” Buscher said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get the other team scatter brained and that’s kind of where we had them in the fourth, but I’m glad our kids battled. “
While it was a disappointing run, Buscher believes the tournament will serve as a learning experience for his young team.
“It definitely is (a learning experience); everything we do is learning. We’re learning how to play together, we’re learning how to play hard,” Buscher said. “These guys don’t know exactly how to run the offense and that’s the frustrating part for me, but were learning on the fly and that’s what we have to do right now.”
Vandalia faces a long break before facing off against conference opponent Gillespie next Friday at home.