WHEATFIELD — Kankakee Valley coach Bill Shepherd has set aside 22 lesson plans for his boys’ basketball squad this winter.
His hope is the players will ace a series of performance exams in early March when they participate in the Hanover Central Sectional.
On Saturday, the Kougars learned a thing or two in their 61-44 loss to Lafayette Harrison in the final of the KVHS holiday tournament. They learned that they can put up a good fight against one of their toughest opponents on their schedule and they learned the value of making sound defensive decisions.
Trailing just 35-31 near the midway point of the third period, the Kougars — who opened the tournament with a76-64 win over South Central — gave up back-to-back transition baskets to the Raiders to spark a 9-0 run that essentially sealed Harrison’s eighth win in 10 games.
One transition basket came off a long rebound, the other on a failed steal attempt at mid-court that led to a 3-on-1 break.
“We focused a lot on ‘D’ this week,” Shepherd said, “but we still have lapses. I told the kids we played better defense tonight than we did even this morning, but against South Central, a smaller school and not a lot of kids to choose from, you make a mistake and they might be able to exploit it 40 percent of the time. You make a mistake against Harrison, they’re going to make you pay 80 percent of the time. You’ve got to be rock solid. But we are getting better. I think if this team can execute on defense as well as I think we can, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Harrison, which beat Illiana Christian, 66-49, in Saturday’s first tournament game, would end the third period with a 45-33 lead.
A veteran squad, the Raiders were led by three-year starters Cam Smith on the outside (21 points) and 6-foot-7 Jordan Walters on the inside (23 points, 10 rebounds).
KV had no one to defend Walters inside. A preseason all-state selection, Walters spun away from defenders to finish 10 of 15 from the floor, including three dunks.
He also had three 3-pointers.
“He’s so athetic,” Shepherd said of Walters. “He’s an inside/outside type dude. If you put a post player on him, he’ll take you outside, drive on you and dunk it. You put a guard on him, he’ll post you up. We really had nobody who could match him.”
Smith, meanwhile, had 11 of his 21 points in the first quarter and finished 6 of 9 from the floor with three 3-pointers.
As a team, Harrison hit 24 of 39 shots from the floor, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range. The Raiders held a 23-18 edge in rebounding and outscored KV, 22-9, in the first quarter.
“The time has come when we should be expecting to play with these kind of teams,” Shepherd said. “We get down the first quarter, battle back and cut it to six. Then we lose our focus again. On the very last possession of the first half, they miss a shot on one side of the floor and then he goes to the other side to the rebound before out guys are there and he’s fouled before the buzzer. Finish that possession out. We have four or five of those a game and all of a sudden it’s a 17-point game.”
The Kougars got 20 points, including four 3-pointers, from senior guard Gavin Herrema. Eli Carden, a junior, added 12 points with a pair of treys.
Herrema, however, hit just one 3-pointer in five attempts in the fourth quarter as he continues to get into basketball shape.
“I need to do a better job of building depth,” Shepherd said. “This was their second game of the day and we got tired late third, early fourth. We need to put more people on the floor to give some of our guys a break.”
Herrema and sophomore Nick Mikash had 20 points each in the Kougars’ win over South Central in the morning game. Harrison beat Illiana Christian, 66-49, in the other semifinal contest.
Herrema was selected to the all-tournament team, along with Harrison’s Smith and Walters. South Central’s 6-foot-8 junior center Brandon Carr and Illiana Christian’s Logan Van Essen were also named all-tourney.