Pilgrims open with win at Triton

BOURBON — After four straight losses to Triton, Plymouth wanted to make a statement early in new head coach Ryan Bales’ first game at the helm.
Point taken.
The Pilgrims used swarming fullcourt pressure to hold their Marshall County rivals to 2 of 15 from the field in the first half en route to a 27-17 lead at the intermission, then withstood a late rally early in the second half by the Trojans for a 60-43 season-opening victory on the road at the Trojan Trench Tuesday.
“We know it’s just one game, but what a tough first game to prepare for, Triton with the success that they’ve had,” said Bales, in his first season after five years heading home town North Judson. “Coach (Jason) Groves does a great job getting the team ready to go. That’s why we felt like we had to come in here and make a statement, especially on the defensive end, dictate the tempo a little bit. I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job for our first game. Hopefully we continue to get better. We’re going to play some great teams on our schedule and we know that, but our kids worked hard up to this point. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Triton (1-1) coughed up 14 of its 22 total turnovers in the first half for 15 points by Plymouth (1-0). The only thing keeping the Trojans in the game was free throw shooting as the Pilgrims’ aggressive defensive effort yielded 14 first half fouls and a 12-of-17 performance from the foul line as Triton’s offense stumbled to a 2-for-15 start from the floor, including a 1-of-8 clip from beyond the arc as Plymouth players denied the lane.
“It starts with their defensive pressure,” said Groves. “We kind of weren’t very aggressive. They took us out of a lot of things; we couldn’t execute a simple set. Those were things that we’ve been doing for years, and we couldn’t do those things. Another thing is our age; I think we were just not sure how to react to that. But that’s not an excuse. That’s what I told the guys: ‘We’re young, we’re inexperienced, but you’re varsity basketball players now. You guys have got to step up and make plays.’ They did a nice job defensively; we just didn’t respond offensively.”
The Trojans offense looked better in the second half, especially early as the home team went on a 7-2 run highlighted by a triple from Gordon Mosson and a baseline backdoor cut for a slam dunk by fellow junior guard Clay Yeo off a Zak Shively assist at the 3:38 mark.
But Plymouth junior point guard David Lee knocked down a quick 3, 6-9 sophomore center Mack Mercer dumped off to Kyle Kaser for a quick layup on a double team, and senior forward John Ruff penetrated the lane and kicked back to senior guard Ryan McNeil for his second 3-pointer of the stanza in an 8-0 response that left the Trojans trailing by 14 until Tanner Shepherd banked in a buzzer-beating trifecta from the corner on a Yeo pass to cut the lead to 44-33 going into the final period.
McNeil’s third and final 3-pointer sparked a 10-0 start to the fourth for Plymouth, and Triton never cut its deficit past double digits the rest of the way.
“With our mentality, whether we play halfcourt or fullcourt defense, we want to dictate tempo,” said Bales. “We want to put pressure on the ball and hopefully in a lot of cases wear the other team down, and I thought we were able to do that. I think our guys stayed fresh. The foul trouble helped us, sitting on the bench in the first half, maybe they got rested that way. But again, that allowed Triton to rest in the first half also, get free throws and score points that way. We wanted to play defense without fouling, and I thought in the second half we did a much better job.”
While Plymouth’s defensive effort certainly deserved much of the credit, stagnant ball movement also led to Triton’s 11-of-34 finish from the field. The Pilgrims’ passing looked much crisper, meanwhile — particularly in the second half when the visitors finished at a 14-of-20, 70 percent rate — and that fact was reflected not only in Plymouth’s superior conversion numbers but also in assists as the Pilgrims tallied 12 led by Ruff’s four compared to eight by Triton players.
Yeo finished with 15 points after putting up 29 in the Trojans’ season-opener with Oregon-Davis last Wednesday, while sophomore Tippecanoe Valley transfer Shepherd did a yeoman’s job with 15 points and team-leading tallies of seven rebounds and five steals.
“I thought we were stagnant on offense. We weren’t reversing the ball. That second half we got it inside and good things were happening the first couple possessions, and we get away from that. Hopefully, it’s something they can learn from,” said Groves.
“Clay and Tanner, they’re athletic, they’re going to get theirs, but we’ve got to have other guys stepping up, too. That’s more of a team thing, I think. Not necessarily individuals trying to do more, it’s just they’re going to have to work together a little bit more and get some good shots. I don’t think we did that very well today.”
Plymouth was led by a double-double from Mercer, who finished with game-highs of 20 points — earned at an efficient 9-for-12 rate from the field and 2-for-2 turn at the stripe — and 13 rebounds in addition to two steals, three assists and a pair of blocked shots.
“He’s a great kid,” said Bales of Mercer. “I know he’s only a sophomore so he’s still learning the game. When he wants to play, he can play. When he wants to get a rebound, he can get a rebound. I thought he helped our offense in controlling the paint; he helped our defense in controlling the paint. That’s what we need him to do any night, no matter who we play.”
McNeil also finished in double figures with 13 points and a pair of steals. His three triples in the second half helped hold off the Trojans and seal the win.
Lee finished with a promising 11 points and two assists in his first game driving the varsity Pilgrims’ offense.
“Ryan, even in the first half he had some good looks,” said Bales. “The thing I really liked about him tonight is that he missed some shots early on, but he was still continuing to play the game, continue to rebound. He didn’t really force anything; I thought he was letting the game come to him. Obviously, for him to step up in that big stretch there as a senior, that’s huge for us. There’s not a kid more deserving than he is. He’s in every morning shooting. He’s a gym rat, so it’s good to see kids get rewarded for their work during the offseason.
“Another guy I’ll point out, I thought David Lee stepped up,” continued Bales. “Here’s a kid that played on JV last year and didn’t get a ton of varsity minutes. He’s learning the varsity game also, it’s a new speed for him, and I thought during a stressful time for our team he stepped up with some composure, hit a couple nice jumpers inside, took care of the ball, gave us some great minutes.”
While Plymouth jumped off to a 1-0 start, Triton, which has earned Class A state berths three of the past four years, opened at 1-1 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The Trojans host another Northern Lakes Conference team in NorthWood Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“I told them I didn’t have a good feeling about this game just because the way our practices went. I don’t know if it’s entitlement or if it’s just kids and they’re not used to the varsity level, but our practices haven’t been where they should be intensity-wise and effort-wise and challenging each other on defense and offense, and things like that,” Groves said. “When a team like Plymouth comes in and challenges you and gets after you, the game’s harder than what practice is, so I think our kids need to learn that. I think it took us a little bit last year to learn that, but maybe this will be a teaching moment for them.”
Plymouth opens its home schedule Friday against Rochester. Tip-off is slated for 7:45 p.m.
“I think we have a lot of guys that can play minutes for us, and on any given night I think there’s going to be different guys step up,” said Bales. “The guys you saw step up tonight, it could be a different group on Friday.”
At Bourbon
Score by quarters
Plymouth: 12 27 54 60
Triton: 6 17 33 43
PLYMOUTH (60): Ryan McNeil 5 0-1 13, Gabe Vervynckt 0 0-0 0, Joe Knapp 0 0-0 0, David Lee 5 0-0 11, Connor Flynn 0 0-0 0, Mack Mercer 9 2-2 20, Ike Kastner 0 0-0 0, Keyser McCrammer 0 0-0 0, John Ruff 2 1-3 5, Kyle Kaser 3 0-0 6, Tom Felke 2 0-0 5, Hayden Skirvin 0 0-0 0; Totals: 26 3-6 60.
TRITON (43): Darren Harrell 0 0-0 0, Clay Yeo 5 5-8 15, Zak Shively 1 2-2 5, Nick Nordmann 0 0-0 0, Jackson Downing 0 0-0 0, Bryson Mosier 0 0-0 0, Tanner Shepherd 2 9-13 15, Seth Glingle 0 0-0 0, Seth Flenar 0 0-0 0, Cody Shively 1 0-0 2, Drew Mosson 2 0-0 6, Dillon Meadway 0 0-0 0; Totals: 11 16-23 43.
3-pointers: Plymouth 5 (McNeil 3, Lee 1, Felke 1), Triton 5 (Shepherd 2, Mosson 2, Shively 1); Turnovers: Plymouth 18, Triton 22; Rebounds: Plymouth 29 (Mercer 13), Triton 22 (Shepherd 7); Assists: Plymouth 12 (Ruff 4), Triton 8 (Shively 3); Steals: Plymouth 13 (McNeil 2, Lee 2, Mercer 2), Triton 11 (Shepherd 5); Fouls (fouled out): Plymouth 22 (Ruff), Triton 13 (none).
Records: Plymouth 1-0, Triton 1-1
JV score: Triton 36 (Dillon Meadway, Seth Flenar 10), Plymouth 25 (Matt Flynn 6)