HANOVER – The Indian Creek boys basketball team knew it would have its hands full dealing with Eastland standout senior Dalton Shaner in the Class 1A River Ridge Sectional championship Friday.
But it was the Cougars defense, which focused on protecting the paint, that proved to be the difference in a 51-42 Indian Creek loss.
“They’re a really good man-to-man team,” Indian Creek Joe Piekarz said. “They were really sagging in and forcing our guards to shoot the basketball.”
The first half was dominated by the Cougars, led by senior Skylar Paulson. He recorded a double-double in the first half and kept the Timberwolves off the glass. Indian Creek trailed 32-17 at the break.
“He’s their second leading scorer, so we know he’s a good player,” Piekarz said of Paulson. “We had some defensive breakdowns, as well, where we were hoping to have help-side rotation. But give him credit, he did a nice job setting the tone early.”
The second half was a different story.
Right out of the gate, Taylor Johnson and Nick Baldwin hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Indian Creek. The Timberwolves rattled off a 16-4 run to start the half by forcing turnovers and converting them into points. Indian Creek grabbed the momentum heading into the final stanza and cut the deficit to 36-33.
“First half, we weren’t getting clean rebounds,” Piekarz said. “What was happening was they were either getting offensive rebounds or they were tipping it to throw off our transition game. At half, we talked about getting that clean rebound. Let’s get on offense, and let’s go.”
On Eastland’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Shaner hit a 3-pointer and followed it with an off-balance layup. Another basket was added by the Cougars, and the Timberwolves once again found themselves in a 10-point hole 2 minutes into the fourth.
The Timberwolves continued to fight and got within five points at the 3:20 mark, but seemingly every transition layup was answered by Eastland.