By Jason Herd For the Pharos-Tribune
---- — FULTON — After going 9-13 last season, and graduating one senior, the Class 4A Lowell Red Devils have the makings of a dangerous basketball team. Nate Richie’s squad was stunned by Caston last season, losing to the Comets 45-42. Oh, what a difference 12 months can make.
Having blazed through the first two games of the 2014 Caston Shootout, the Red Devils would again face Caston, this time in the championship finale Saturday night.
At 7-1, Lowell’s victims include wins over Hanover Central, Valparaiso, Gary West, Portage and Hobart. Their only loss was to East Chicago Central on Dec. 7.
A fast-paced, running style offense and frantic pressure defense overwhelmed the Comets, and Lowell easily captured the Caston Shootout championship 58-20.
After a quick 7-0 deficit, solely at the hands of Lowell senior standout Zach Van Hook, Caston got on track behind consecutive 3s by Quentin and Eli Douglass. A Van Hook jam and-one gave the Red Devils a 13-7 lead at the end of the first.
Sophomore Brandon Cory scored 8 points in the second to help extend the lead for Lowell in the second. The Red Devils outscored the Comets 19-5 in the period, giving them a 32-12 lead at half.
Unable to settle in their halfcourt set, the Comets came further unraveled in the third, scoring just three points behind Brayton Jellison’s opening basket and late free throw. Van Hook scored the final four points in the period, and opened the fourth with an emphatic steal and dunk to give Lowell a 47-15 lead. He led the Red Devils with 21 points and was named the tournament MVP.
Quentin Douglass led the Comets with nine points, and was named to the All-Tournament team, along with teammate Alex Howdeshell. Despite the loss, Caston moves to 4-5 on the season and will host West Central on Friday for a key Midwest Conference game.
Caston 44, KV 34
After losing four straight games, the Caston Comets were looking forward to a little home cooking. Their next six games would at home, and hopefully help provide some much needed confidence moving into the heart of the schedule.
After a gritty 57-53 win over Central Noble Friday, JR Howell’s squad faced 3A Kankakee Valley in the semifinal of the Caston Shootout. The Kougars downed the Comets in last season’s semifinal on a last-second 3 at the buzzer.
Kankakee Valley entered at 2-6 with two wins in a row, advancing past Oregon-Davis earlier in the day. The Comets used a pivotal third quarter, and good shooting to surge past the Kougars 44-34 in advancing to the championship game.
The Kougars’ 2-3 zone proved challenging to the Comets, forcing a perimeter attack. Dylan Caldwell scored on the and-one, and senior Alonte Blackwell’s putback at the buzzer gave the Kougars an early 10-5 lead.
In years past, a heavy reliance on the 3 proved successful for Caston. But Howell stressed “paint touches” after the opening quarter. “We’ve been working on getting the ball in the lane, instead of settling for 3s, which has paid off these last two games,” said Howell. The Comets battled back, behind consecutive baskets by Quentin and Eli Douglass. The elder sibling netted two free throws under a minute to play to tie the score at 13-13.
Plagued by foul trouble, junior Dustin Offenberger made his minutes count, burying a 3 to open the third. A Caldwell technical foul netted two free throws by Quentin Douglass, and Caston took its first and final lead of the game at the 6:00 mark of the period. Two more treys by Q. Douglass extended the lead to 7. Eli Douglass followed with another 3 as the period came to a close, but Blackwell again scored on a putback at the buzzer to draw the Kougars to within 4.
Senior Matt Myers scored in the lane to open the fourth, but junior Jake Kingery answered with a 3 from the corner. Caldwell’s 3 brought the Kougars to within two, but they would get no closer. Brayton Jellison nailed a 3 off a Douglass feed, pushing the lead to 7.
Caston shot 52 percent from the field and forced 17 Kougar turnovers. Quentin Douglass led the Comets with a game-high 25 points and eclipsed the 1,000 point mark for his career.
“We struggled in the first half getting the ball into the lane, but once we started doing that we got big shots from Jake [Kingery] and Brayton [Jellison].” says Douglass.
“We showed a lot more poise these last two games, more guts, too,” Howell added. “I’m proud of the kids, with two starters in foul trouble and playing two games in a 24-hour period.”