Boys' basketball storylines: The dog days of January

Boys' basketball storylines: The dog days of January

Bulldogs impress in Apollo

MAHOMET — Since starting the season 3-2, coach Chad Benedict's Mahomet-Seymour squad has blown past a number of opponents despite continually falling short of 100 percent health. Whether it's been because of injury or illness, the Bulldogs have rarely suited up all of their available components.

So while sophomore Grant Coleman's return on Tuesday from an ankle sprain couldn't help M-S overcome Washington in a nonconference road tilt, Benedict is happy that the Bulldogs have a 14-5 record that includes a 6-0 ledger in Apollo Conference action.

"We thought we had a chance to be good," Benedict said. "I don't know that we said before the year that the first time through the conference we want to be undefeated. The goal is to control what we can control, and the kids have done a good job of that."

Since losses to Centennial and Danville on Nov. 25 at the Lincoln Eaton Thanksgiving Tournament, M-S has reeled off win streaks of seven and three games, with the latter run ending Tuesday. The Bulldogs also have limited their league foes to 50 or fewer points in five of six opportunities.

On the other side of the ball, senior Cory Noe is still lighting up the score sheet after tallying his 1,000th career point earlier in the season. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 20.3 points per game, with a season-high of 30.

"Honestly, we expect it, and we expect it because he expects it," Benedict said of Noe's performance this season. "Cory has high expectations for himself. The neat thing is how infectious his attitude has been toward his teammates."

Noe and the Bulldogs will be tested severely in the immediate future as they try to bounce back from Tuesday's loss. Nonconference showdowns at Morton (13-6) on Saturday and at home against Champaign Central (10-5) next Tuesday await M-S.

"It represents what it would feel like in a regional and on to a sectional-type feel," Benedict said. "We're going to get into a run of games here where it's very well-coached (teams) and very good players. It'll be a good stretch."

Blue Devils foiling foes

BISMARCK — Gary Tidwell posits that opponents figured Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin would be in rebuild mode this season after the graduation of Blake Reifsteck, Colton Story and others. But looking at the Blue Devils' record shows this has not come to fruition.

BHRA sits at 13-7 after opening the Vermilion County Tournament on Tuesday with a 44-30 triumph over Westville but followed that up with a 52-49 loss to Oakwood. The defeat eliminated the Blue Devils from the event. And that mark is close to being a few games better, as the Blue Devils have a trio of one-point defeats as well as a four-point setback on their schedule.

"I think a lot of teams were probably underestimating us," Tidwell said. "But our players have stepped up to the challenge and formed their own identity. We've responded well this year with the seniors we lost last season."

Leading this resurgence has been sophomore Drew Reifsteck, brother of Blake, and senior Wyatt Edwards. The two are averaging 15.2 and 19.1 points per game, respectively, and Tidwell says they feed off each other and are adept at penetrating into the paint.

BHRA's success goes beyond the standout duo, though. Seniors Jared Dazey, Hunter Keith, Josh Stephens and Travis Lappin each offer something to the Blue Devils — whether it be scoring, defensive efforts or rebounding.

"I think our players really know their roles," Tidwell said. "I think with the skill sets we have within our personnel, they complement each other really well. When we're on, I think we're a tough team to beat."

One knock against BHRA, according to Tidwell, is a lack of size. Only Dazey at 6-foot-1 offers the Blue Devils a post presence, and Tidwell saw his team become overpowered under the rim in a 74-68 win over Armstrong-Potomac and a 48-47 loss to Milford last week.

But Tidwell also feels his team, the Vermilion County Tournament's top seed, can strike fear in its opponents. The fact it has qualified for the competition's title game only adds to that.

"We have a tradition of winning a lot," Tidwell said. "They've been right there in the mix of conference championships and county championships. I think there is a respect factor."

Warriors finding their finish

WATSEKA — To say coach Chad Cluver's Watseka outfit could be undefeated through 18 games isn't a stretch. Presently on a four-game win streak and sitting at 13-5 overall, the Warriors' defeats have come by two, four, four, one and six points.

So what's made the difference for Watseka during this latest stretch of victories, the squad's third such run this season?

"We've been finishing games right now," Cluver said. "If we keep moving the ball and trusting each other on offense, we're hard to guard. We have a lot of guys who can score, shoot and take you off the dribble."

After consecutive losses to BHRA and Judah Christian to conclude the 2017 calendar year, the Warriors boasted a 9-5 mark. But hitting 13 of 14 free throws in the following game, against Tri-Valley on Jan. 6 at the St. Joseph-Ogden Shootout, helped turn the tide for Watseka.

It's the areas that aren't often as discussed — free-throw conversions, clock management and consistent intensity — that have put the Warriors on the right side of their more-recent affairs.

Then came last Saturday's trip to Grant Park, which occurred on the heels of a celebration the night prior when Watseka honored its Elite Eight teams from 1986-87 and 1987-88. So when the Warriors toppled the Dragons, 53-51, it was an extreme positive for Cluver.

"That game, I was really proud of my kids," he said. "It was a good mental toughness game. It was a very physically-called game." — you went to the basket and there wasn't going to be much called. I think we handled a lot of adversity really strongly."

Junior Blake Castonguay (18.6 points per game) has paced Watseka from an offensive standpoint, with senior Brendan Fletcher a defensive force and 6-foot-4 senior Drew Hagen pulling down boards. Add the contributions of juniors Ben Lyznicki and Justin McTaggart and a balanced, confident bunch awaits Momence (14-2) in tonight's Sangamon Valley Conference home matchup.

"We're seeing some of the meat of our conference schedule right here and right now," Cluver said. "It's going to be really important to see where we're at."