CULVER — North Judson head coach Phil Shabi thinks John Eckert has more to give.
Given the 6-7 senior forward’s dominant performance at Culver Tuesday, that’s really saying something.
Eckert scored from the inside, on the fast break and from the perimeter to put up a game-high 26 points while ripping down a game co-leading 11 rebounds, powering the undefeated Class 2A No. 6 Bluejays to a 74-47 win over Class A No. 8 Culver on the road at John R. Nelson Gymnasium.
“John gets better and better every game. He’s obviously put up numbers over his career, and if you look at his season averages they’re always great, but we just think John doesn’t allow himself to be as dominant and as good as he can be,” said Shabi, a former assistant coach at Canyon Springs High School in Nevada in his first year at the helm taking over for now-Plymouth head coach Ryan Bales. “He stepped out tonight, shot a couple 3s that didn’t go early, and we wanted him to take the next one and he knocked one down. We were happy about that, and you can see what he can do when he runs the floor. It’s tough for a five man to keep up with him. We had a couple passes where Winston (Yergler) was throwing 75-foot assists to John, who was just running out ahead of everybody.
“John Eckert is just getting better every game, hopefully getting some confidence and believing in himself, and I’m looking forward to even better things from him.”
The Jays (5-0) used a 9-0 run midway through the first period to jump out to a 21-11 lead at the first quarter break, but Culver (6-2) cut that lead down to three points at 23-20 with a 9-2 second quarter-opening run capped off by a traditional three-point play from sophomore Jacoda Anderson at the 1:12 stop. The Cavs held the visitors to 3-of-14 numbers from the field in the second frame and a mere 1-of-12 conversion rate until the last 36 seconds of the half, when Yergler followed up a steal and transition layup with a driving kick to Kendall Hochstedler for a triple from the wing with 6 seconds remaining to give Judson back a 29-20 halftime advantage and some momentum going into the locker room.
“We gave up 21 in that first quarter, and that’s exactly what we didn’t want to do. We talked as a team about 21 points to that team in the first quarter is definitely not in your favor,” said Culver head coach Kyle Elliott. “They came out in the second quarter, I thought we defended well, didn’t give up many open looks, and I thought we boarded well. Then we turned right around in that last 30 seconds of that quarter and shot half of what you’ve worked for and open that lead right back up for them. More important, the last thing you want to do is give them a lot of energy heading into half. That’s exactly what we did, and it kind of took the wind out of our sail in what we’d worked extremely hard for in that quarter. We had them at eight, they get that three and that lay-up there… or we could have had them below five. I told the team you hold a team like that to five or less, that’s some good defense.”
Culver also outrebounded the visitors by a lopsided 15-5 margin in the second quarter, capitalizing on the effort with five second-chance points. But as good as the Cavs’ defense and rebounding was in the second, some of Judson’s struggles early were due to game rust, said Shabi, as the Jays were playing in their first contest in 10 days and their first game on the road this season.
“I’m happy. Our kids were coming into a foreign gym and haven’t been here in awhile, our first road game,” he said. “It was a little rough start, but they’re kids and we’re playing the game of basketball. Coach Elliott was ready, his kids were ready. They came out and played really well early and kind of kicked our tail on the glass a little bit, but our kids came in at halftime, they made adjustments, got a little tougher, and we came away with the win. I’ll never be unhappy with a win. I’ve had too many losses in my career to be unhappy.”
The Jays used a 25-11 third period — including 12 points from Eckert in the frame — to stretch their lead to 23 at 54-31 headed into the final quarter. A potential Culver comeback was hampered by the fact that two of its starters fouled out early as Allen Biggers — who had been producing solidly with nine points Tuesday — collected his fifth infraction with 1:47 remaining in the third period, and Anderson fouled out with 5:23 still left to play. With Kyle Vlach already sitting the game out, the young Cavs’ rotation suffered, and Judson capitalized on 17 Culver fouls with 18-of-21 efficiency at the line while the home team scuffled to a 9-of-20 mark from the stripe on 16 Bluejay fouls.
“You shoot yourself in the foot at the free throw line shooting under 50 percent. Our kids did some very nice things to get there, but it doesn’t do you any good,” said Elliott. “That’s almost the same as a turnover; it’s no different than throwing the ball out of bounds and running down to the other end if you’re not going to step up and make free throws. To their credit, they step up and go 18 of 21. Any spurt we were trying to make, we were trying to pick up that defensive intensity, we’d put them at the line. They go 18 of 21, and you’re not cutting into the lead. What you’re doing is putting two starters on the bench with five fouls. Credit them, they stepped up and hit them and made you pay.”
While the Jays benefitted from balanced production with four players in double figures — Yergler tallied 19, while Mitch FIngerhut put up 14 and Hochstedler finished with 11 behind Eckert’s season-high 26 — Culver was led by sophomore guard Trent Elliott’s 17 points. Elliott buried a trio of 3s en route to his highest tally since scoring 23 in a double overtime win at Knox Dec. 10.
“I thought Trent Elliott shot the ball a little bit better tonight,” said Culver’s boss. “He’s struggled a little bit on the perimeter, but he had some big jump shots for us. And Allen Biggers, he’s fighting foul trouble all night, but he’s really coming along and bringing some new things to the offense.”
Judson improves to 5-0 and will host LaVille Friday with a 7:30 p.m. EST tip-off time. Culver slips to 6-2, meanwhile, with its second loss in three games after a 5-0 start capped off by the double-overtime Northern State Conference victory against winless Knox a week and a half ago.
“It all started over there at Knox, then obviously a tough Winamac team and loss there, and the second half even up at Jimtown — we played an excellent first half up there and then just couldn’t put 32 minutes together,” said Elliott. “When you’re not even close to 32 against a team like Judson, you’re really going to pay.
“We’re 6-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference. Overall record-wise we’re happy, obviously, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. Our schedule, I don’t want to say we’ve had an easy part, but we have. We start into that conference play the second half of the season with New Prairie, then Westville’s doing some good things and we’ve got to travel to their place. Then we’re back here with Triton, and the first round of the Bi-County Tournament at Triton. Win or lose, we’re going to have LaVille or Glenn, so we’re going to have our hands full after the break. These few days off that the kids will get between now and Christmas will be much-needed, and hopefully they can hang in there and start to clean things up after Christmas.”
• NORTH JUDSON 74,
Score by quarters
Judson: 21 29 54 74
Culver: 11 20 31 47
NORTH JUDSON (74): Winston Yergler 6 6-6 19, Kendall Hochstedler 3 2-2 11, Dustin Knapp 1 2-2 4, Mitch Fingerhut 5 3-3 14, John Eckert 10 5-8 26, Dalton Bailey 0 0-0 0, Caston Sanchez 0 0-0 0, Evan Howard 0 0-0 0, Jacob Shabi 0 0-0 0, David Jachim 0 0-0 0; Totals: 25 18-21 74.
CULVER (47): Jordan Sanders 1 0-0 3, Collin Stevens 0 3-4 3, Allen Biggers 4 1-2 9, Trent Elliott 6 2-4 17, Johnny Anderson 1 1-6 3, Jacoda Anderson 2 2-3 6, Tucker Schultz 0 0-0 0, Micah Budzinski 3 0-1 6; Totals: 17 9-20 47.
3-point goals: Judson 6 (Hochstedler 3, Yergler, Fingerhut, Eckert), Culver 4 (Elliott 3, Sanders); Turnovers: Judson 8, Culver 17; Rebounds: Judson 35 (Eckert 11), Culver 34 (Budzinski 11); Assists: Judson 12 (Yergler 5), Culver 11 (Stevens 3, Elliott 3); Steals: Judson 13 (Yergler 5); Fouls (fouled out): Judson 16 (Sanchez), Culver 17 (Biggers, Ja. Anderson).
Records: Judson 5-0, Culver 6-2
JV score: Culver 43, North Judson 28