CULVER — With its conference schedule now complete, Plymouth’s boys basketball team is already gearing up for the start of the state tournament.
The Pilgrims jumped out to a fast start on the road at potential Sectional 19 foe Culver Military Academy Tuesday, holding the Eagles to just two buckets in the first half for a 25-point cushion at the break, and the visitors never let off the gas in a 59-24 rout at Fleet Gymnasium.
“We treat it like a five-game sectional; it started tonight,” said Plymouth head coach Ryan Bales. “We don’t want a switch to turn on once we hit sectional and all of a sudden we just figure out that we need to play hard and get after it. I think tonight was a good night to really get into things.”
The Pilgrims used swarming man-to-man pressure in both the full and the halfcourt to pressure CMA into 22 turnovers for the night and wasted few of those extra opportunities on the other end, capitalizing with 29 points off turnovers against the Eagles.
CMA turned over 15 times in the first half alone and struggled to a 2-of-9 start from the floor while falling behind 35-20 at the half.
It was just the defensive start Bales was looking for after a lackluster performance against Warsaw last Thursday in which the Pilgrims found themselves trailing by 14 points headed into the fourth quarter before eventually rallying for an NLC slate-closing win.
“I think we learned some things from the Warsaw game. We didn’t come, for whatever reason, ready to play. You didn’t see that intensity, and I have no idea why,” said Bales.
“After the Warsaw game, just seeing the intensity that we need to come out with and the intensity that we didn’t come out with up until the fourth quarter, is when we really decided to turn it up. Our kids made a choice to go out and do that tonight, and luckily they were able to do it.”
While Mark Galloway gave credit to Plymouth’s defense, the Culver Academies head coach said turnovers troubles are nothing new to his team.
“We’ve struggled all year with taking care of the ball. Coach Bales, he’s going to recognize that, as most coaches do, so they’re going to pressure us and force us into turnovers. We’ve had games where we’ve had more turnovers than shots, so that’s definitely going to hurt you. We’ve had games where we’ve shot 19 percent. To say that we struggled offensively, that’s an understatement,” he said.
“I’ll compliment Plymouth, it had something to do with their defense, but all year we’ve had teams do that to us.”
CMA picked up its offense in the second half, but unfortunately for the Eagles, so did Plymouth.
The Pilgrims scored with better than 58-percent efficiency after the break on 10-of-17 shooting, running out to a 30-point lead at the 4:03 stop of the third and never looking back.
Mack Mercer put up 15 points — including a pair of third quarter 3s for the 6-foot-9 big man — Joe Knapp scored 13 guiding Plymouth’s offense, Tom Felke finished with nine points and four assists, and David Lee scored seven to compliment a defensive effort that featured a game-high four steals. But perhaps even more impressive were the Pilgrims reserves, who got heavy rotation with the game firmly in control early.
Trent Briles put up eight points with a pair of assists and a steal, Ike Kastner finished with four points and an assist, and Gabe Vervynckt continued to come along in his second game back after sitting out 13 games with a broken ankle sustained at South Bend St. Joseph early in December.
“It was good vision by our guys with the ball. At times we’ve missed people this year when we have been open and we’ve made some good cuts. But I thought tonight we had guys looking for back door and looking over the top, and we executed and some easy buckets out of it,” Bales said.
“It’s good to see the depth out there. Gabe is obviously helping off the bench, it’s nice to have him back. Briles came in and gave us some good things as well.”
CMA was led by Bradley Fisher’s six points and Nick Zalduendo’s five in the loss as the Eagles slid to 2-15 with their second straight loss following just their second victory of the year against Lakeland Christian last Friday.
The Eagles host Fort Wayne Canterbury Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“When you struggle with dribbling with your left hand — I’m not trying to be funny, but we’re varsity players and we put our head down when we dribble and we can’t see the guy that’s open,” said Galloway. “We’re still working on jump-stop pivots. We’re still working on fundamentals, triple threat position, whereas Plymouth, they’re doing that in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. It’s a struggle. The nice thing is our freshmen they finished 12-2 this year; the JV took Plymouth today to 36-34, so we’re making progress.”
“We’ve got to make sure we keep getting better,” Galloway added. “That’s what I’ve told them all year — one game at a time, one practice at a time. We’ve got two wins, last year we had zero. We’re at two wins, and two wins are better than zero.”
Plymouth improves to 16-3 and will host John Glenn in another match-up of Sectional 19 foes next Tuesday at 7:45 p.m.
“Preparation-wise, we just have to continue to get better,” said Bales. “John Glenn is playing really well. Coach (Travis) Hannah is going to have them ready to play. It’s going to be a big game for them; it needs to be a big game for us. I think our guys gave a good effort tonight, and it’s going to be the last game for our seniors, regular season-wise to play on their home court, and obviously we want to be playing well going into sectional and keep getting better each night out.”
• PLYMOUTH 59,
CULVER MILITARY 24
Score by quarters
Plymouth: 19 35 48 59
CMA: 2 10 18 24
Plymouth (59): Matt Flynn 2, Gabe Vervynckt 0, Joe Knapp 13, David Lee 7, Nick Bayley 0, Mack Mercer 15, Ike Kastner 4, Kyser McCrammer 1, Trenton Briles 8, Joshua Anders 0, Tom Felke 9, Michael Kaser 0, Jack Barron 0; Totals: 12-6 17-24 59.
CMA (24): Demetreus Rush-Bailey 2, Hayes Barnes 3, Alec Proeh 2, Eljay Murray 2, James Van Pelt 0, Austin Proeh 0, Nick Zalduendo 5, Rayford Dexter El 0, Lorenzo Ricks 0, Bradley Fisher 6, Matthew Gabir 0, Aaron Marshall 2, Sam Concannon 2; Totals: 9 5-8 24.
3-pointers: Plymouth 64 (Mercer 2, Briles 2, Felke, Knapp), CMA 1 (Barnes); Rebounds: Plymouth 19 (Mercer 3), CMA 23 (Van Pelt 5); Turnovers: Plymouth 11, CMA 22; Steals: Plymouth 11 (Lee 4), CMA 3; Assists: Plymouth 14 (Felke 3), CMA 3; Fouls (fouled out): Plymouth 11 (none), CMA 20 (none). Technicals: CMA 2 (Zalduendo, Bench).
Records: Plymouth 16-3, CMA 2-15.
JV score: Plymouth 36 (Tyler England 11), CMA 34 (Demetreus Rush-Bailey 10).