Rensselaer Central is now capable of playing a style that coach Chad Pulver envisioned for his team last year.
Because they were short on numbers and lost the services of a handful of players who played the year before, the Bombers were only able to play fast and under control in spurts last season. But with the return of seniors Alex Gull and Jacob Hillan and the maturation of a few sophomores, Rensselaer was able to turn up the heat with its diamond press against Tri-County on Friday night.
RCHS forced 26 turnovers and hit 43 percent of its shots in a 77-49 victory. It’s the most points scored in a season opener since former coach Steve Doud’s Bombers edged Delphi, 81-72, in 1994.
The Bombers did a good amount of sharing the basketball, finishing with 15 assists, and jumped passing lanes all night with 21 steals.
Rensselaer’s game plan was to cut off the head of the snake, harassing TC point guard Jaeden Johnson whenever he touched the ball.
Johnson was coming off a 20-point performance against Kankakee Valley three days earlier, slicing through the Kougars’ defense with a quick first step.
“That was our main focus point because when we watched the KV game he was really quick with his in and out,” said Bomber junior Josh Fleming. “We tried to focus on him, get the ball out of his hands.”
The Bombers also got great production from reserves Brody Chamness, Tate Drone and others.
“They gave us wonderful minutes,” Bombers coach Chad Pulver said of his bench. “Going all the way from Drone to Chamness, who are sophomores, and (Jacoby) Tiede-Souza who is a sophomore. They were great. And we had two juniors in Jake Lane and Deric Duncan who played well. All of them made plays.”
Lins moving up lists
If Covenant Christian senior forward Ben Lins continues at this pace, he’ll have a school scoring record by himself within a couple of weeks.
Lins, who was 11 points shy of 1,000 points for his career prior to last week’s visit by North Newton, had a game-high 35 points in leading his team to victory. He currently has 1,024 points, placing him second on the school’s scoring list behind former teammate Chris Beezhold.
Beezhold owns the boys’ scoring record with 1,247 points, which should fall sometime later this month if Lins continues to average around 25 points per game.
“I probably anticipate getting close to that record by mid-season,” Lins said during practice on Tuesday. “That’s my next milestone I’m focused on. But I want to make sure we get wins.”
Lins, the son of Covenant Christian athletic director Dennis Lins, had 10 points with 2.4 seconds left until halftime against North Newton. He knocked down a 3-point basket from the top of the key to join the 1,000-point club.
He would contribute 23 points in the second half to his team’s win.
“It was definitely a relief to get it over with,” he said. “A lot of people told me I looked uptight in the first half. Once I got it, I relaxed more and had a better second half.”
Lins is used to breaking records. This fall, he became the all-time leading scorer for Covenant with 79 goals. He also own the school’s single-season scoring record of 36.
On the basketball court last season, the 6-foot-5 uber-athlete averaged 22 points per game and snagged 7.5 rebounds, as well. Lins was selected as the Kankakee Valley Post-News/Rensselaer Republican Player of the Year as a junior and was also selected to play in the Class Basketball All-Star Classic this summer, which selects the top 40 players in the state.
Lins has drawn the attention of several college coaches as well.
“I continually hear from opposing coaches and scouts at how impressed they are with Ben’s game and potential,” said Knights coach John Heerema. “We literally just talked as a coaching staff about how he has one of the highest basketball IQ’s we’ve witnessed. I know he has received numerous looks and requests from D-3 and D-2 college coaches. There also has been D-1 interest. I truly believe when Ben has the season we all see him having, many schools will inquire about him.”
Tri-County coach Mark Gretencord knew it would be a rebuilding year with just one starter back from last year’s six-win squad.
Defining roles will be a goal for the Cavaliers in the first month. TC opened the season with a 51-47 loss to KV before its 28-point loss to RCHS.
“It’s a rollercoaster, and I think that comes with inexperience,” Gretencord said. “We have a lot of young guys and we complimented them on Tuesday (vs. KBV) but kind of fell back again (vs. Rensselaer) some. We’ve got to work on some things.”
Senior Justin Cree’s production from the perimeter was a silver lining for TC. He hit 6 of 9 3-pointers for a team-high 18 points and junior Chase Stearns added a pair of treys.
Gretencord was glad to see both players — who combined to hit nary a 3 against KV — shoot the ball with confidence. Meanwhile, Rensselaer countered with scorers all over the floor.
“They played completely confident,” Gretencord said of the Bombers. “They were getting open shots. We didn’t do a good job on the defensively. They were setting good screens and they were rolling and we didn’t maintain our composure very well.”
The return of seniors Hillan and Gull to the floor made a world of difference for RCHS’s execution of its full-court defense.
Bench players as sophomores, Hillan and Gull decided to sit out their junior years but appear primed to make an impact in their final year at the school.
Fleming is especially appreciative of his new teammates.
“Jacob Hillan and Alex Gull, it’s great to have them back because they know where the guys are and they know to give it up at the right time,” Fleming said. “They’re played really well (vs. TCHS).”
Gull finished with 14 points, five steals and four assists and Hillan added six points with a 3-pointer and four rebounds. Hillan’s length inside and Gull’s versatility will help determine Rensselaer’s success this winter.
While Tri-County’s season-opening losses to KV and Rensselaer were not surprising, the final scores were. KV played short-handed while eking out a four-point win over the Cavaliers and a deep RCHS squad beat the Cavaliers by 28 points in a near-flawless performance last Friday.
But when the Bombers host their county rivals this week, they expect KV to be near full strength with the return of junior Eli Carden and senior Cole Cavinder from injuries.
The Kougars will be without seniors Gavin Herrema and Tyler Martin for two more games after violating school policy. Both are projected to start when they return.
“We expect KV to be a very different team than what we watched on Tuesday (vs. Tri-County,” said Pulver. “I expect them to have the five guys who are out playing again, with three of them starter material and the other two coming off the bench. What we saw on Tuesday is not what we’re going to see next week. We have to play a whole different style because they’re bigger than us at every position and deeper than us in a lot of places. What we have to do is make sure we put our style in play and execute it with precision.”
Football coach remembered
Prior to last week’s game between Tri-County and Rensselaer Central, a moment of silence was given in memory of football coach Phillip Bowsman, who passed away from a stroke at the age of 43 last Monday.
Bowsman, the brother of Twin Lakes girls’ basketball coach Brad Bowsman, suffered a stroke from a blood clot following West Washington’s semistate game on Nov. 22. West Washington is located in Campbellsburg, Indiana.
Also in his memory, schools throughout the state were asked to turn on their football field lights through this past Saturday’s funeral for Bowsman. Both RCHS and Tri-County obliged, with Rensselaer’s lights remaining on into Saturday evening.
Bowsman served 19 years with the West Washington school district, including seven years as its athletic director. He was a head coach for the Senators for 16 years, winning three sectionals and the program’s first regional title this fall.
Twin Lakes’ girls’ basketball team was scheduled to attend last Friday’s memorial service in Salem, Indiana. Bowsman is survived by his wife Beth and children Maddie and Holden.