COLUMBUS, Ohio — “Give the ball to Kyle.”
That was the directive in the huddle from House of ‘Paign’s Malcolm Hill during the Elam ending of Wednesday’s game against Carmen’s Crew in The Basketball Tournament. Hill knew Kyle Vinales’ game from their time this past season in the VTB United League. And from the practice time House of ‘Paign had spent on the practice court the past week-plus in the quarantine bubble in Columbus.
Vinales delivered. Twice.
The former Central Connecticut State standout beat his defender off the dribble and got a layup to fall to put House of ‘Paign one score away from victory. A running floater from the 6-foot-2 guard closed out House of ‘Paign’s 76-68 victory against the reigning TBT champs at Nationwide Arena. The win sets up a 3 p.m. Friday showdown with Dayton alumni team Red Scare in the quarterfinals.
“I’ve been doing that my whole life, to be honest with you,” Vinales said about his game-winner, while also crediting Hill for pointing out he had a mismatch. “I was trying to exploit it. My teammates gave me space, I got through him and I was lucky enough to make the basket.”
Hill’s in-huddle instructions aren’t anything new for House of ‘Paign. Every player has a voice, and despite the fact they haven’t even hit double digits for number of days together as a team, they’ve developed the chemistry to make that work.
“Dead balls, we huddle,” former South Dakota State All-American and honorary Illini Mike Daum said. “It doesn’t have to be anything long. I know that we’re all coming in together and we’re just saying, ‘Hey, next possession. Let’s grab this one. Grab this boat and we’re off quick.’
“It’s not these long talks. We’re not getting on each other. I think it just shows the buy-in of each guy on this team with the fact we’re coming in together after each dead ball and encouraging each other in each of those huddles.”
Daum led House of ‘Paign for the second straight game with 23 points and eight rebounds. The TBT “grad transfer” was one of four players in double figures for the Illini alumni squad. Vinales chipped in 16 points, Andres Feliz did a little bit of everything with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Hill added 11 points.
House of ‘Paign needed it all. An early first-half lead evaporated after Carmen’s Crew went on an absolute heater from three-point range. Former Ohio State guard Jon Diebler and Demetri McCamey (the former Illinois point guard reprising his role for last year’s champs) combined for five made threes in a 2 1/2-minute span in the second quarter to give Carmen’s Crew a 44-39 halftime lead.
House of ‘Paign rallied after the break, though.
“The second quarter we were losing their shooters a lot,” Vinales said. “At halftime, we really keyed finding Diebler and limiting three-point shots. I feel like we did that, and it helped us get back in the game.”
A strong third quarter helped House of ‘Paign reestablish its advantage. A layup from Hill and three-pointer by Daum right before the Elam ending started in the fourth sent them into the final 4 minutes with the lead.
“I think I’ve said it about 25 times now,” House of ‘Paign coach Mike LaTulip said. “I can’t say enough about these guys and their buy-in from day one. But there were so many parts of that game where we could have easily disbanded and so many different parts of that game where a team that hasn’t been together for more than nine or 10 days would have just packed their bags and gone home — quite literally.
“These guys stuck with it. The huddle was so connected, whether we were up or whether we were down. I think it just speaks to these guys’ character — every single one of them. We had guys step up in big ways.”
LaTulip is now 2-0 in his debut tournament as a coach. He also understands working with professionals — only Feliz has yet to play at that level — also makes his job easier. It’s more a collaborative process than LaTulip having to micromanage every little detail. The open, free flowing conversations start in film review and on the practice court and have translated successfully — now twice — in live game action.
“These are all really smart basketball players — every single one of them,” LaTulip said. “Everybody’s all ears. It doesn’t matter who’s talking on the team. Everybody’s listening because everybody’s bought in. These guys are pros.
“They make my job obviously a little bit easier because you’re not managing 18- or 19-year-old freshmen. These are dudes that have been through it. There’s no reason for me to come in here and put my foot down and assert myself as a coach. I’m just here to provide structure and make sure these guys are feeling good when game time rolls around.”