The first half of last Friday's game against Sandy was so easy that the Lakeridge boys basketball team seemed content to coast through most of the second half. Yet, despite playing less than inspired ball the rest of the way, the Pacers still managed to record a 75-61 non-league victory.
It's always good to get a win, no matter how it happens. But the effort convinced Lakeridge coach Dave Nuss that there's still a few things that need to be ironed out before the Pacers head into Three Rivers League play in early January.
'We didn't play very well in the second half,' Nuss said after watching his team turn a hefty 23-point lead into a nine-point advantage before righting the ship late in the contest.
In the first half, Lakeridge was on the verge of picking Sandy apart. Everything the Pacers did seemed to work. They ran the ball when they wanted to and converted most of those opportunities. In the first quarter alone, they scored on three rebound plays and three different players hit a three-pointer.
It was truly a team effort and a lopsided one at that as the Pacers jumped to a 20-8 lead after one period.
It was more of the same in the second quarter as the Pacers ran their offense without much resistance from the visiting Pioneers. That gave Ian Maurer and Chris Hoch space to roam inside while Tyler Larsen, Josh Little and Trevan Hertz bombed away from the perimeter.
As a result, Lakeridge put together second-quarter runs of 8-2 and 11-2. For the half, Larsen led the way with 11 points while Maurer had eight and Hoch and Little added seven each. Sandy probably felt fortunate to trail only 43-22 at the break.
'We had our press running and our transition game was going really well in the first half, too,' Nuss said.
'Then, in the second half, we lost our commitment, and I think we tried to gamble too much in the second half,' the coach added.
The Pacers also showed some complacency early in the second half, as if they assumed the game was already well in hand. But, Sandy, a team that had struggled through the first two weeks of the season, wasn't going to give the game away.
To the Pioneers' credit, they slowly began to turn the game around and actually made it an interesting contest by the fourth quarter. They took advantage of some holes in Lakeridge's press and the Pioneers quickly turned those chances into points.
'I think we were gambling too much on the press,' Nuss said. 'We had some guys gambling, then losing their guy, but no one was rotating over to pick them up. So, they were getting a lot of layups … or they were getting rebounds and sometimes some and-ones (a basket and a foul).'
The Pioneers don't have much height, with their starting center standing just 6-foot-1. But Sandy's interior players were giving Lakeridge's front court a tough time in the second half. And the Pacers also seemed to lose track of Sandy's elusive little point guard, Tommy D'Aboy, who poured in 10 third-quarter points and finished the night with a team-high 18.
'Defensively, we just lost guys and our rebounding was not good,' Nuss said of his team's second-half effort.
'We just didn't play very well in the second half. Fortunately, we came ready to play in the first half and build a nice cushion, and then I think we just kind of coasted from then on.'
There were times when the Pacers looked like a legitimate playoff team. During those moments, they attacked the basket with authority, or made an extra pass to break down Sandy's defense and many of their shot attempts were taken in rhythm. But there were also times when it seemed that everyone was running a different play on offense, which led to a number of forced shots.
But Nuss saw enough good things last Friday to know that his team is at least headed in the right direction.
'There are some things that we need to get better at … but I think we have the chance to be a playoff team, I really do,' the coach said.
Before the season began, Nuss really wasn't sure what to expect from his team. The biggest question was whether the Pacers could overcome their lack of experience at the varsity level. But some of those untested players have shown that they can play.
One of those who made a mark on Friday was Hertz, 6-foot junior whose main job is to set up plays for his teammates.
But Hertz started the game with a three-pointer, which forced Sandy to defend more tightly on the perimeter the rest of the game. Later, Hertz had a nice drive to the hoop, which he converted, and then tacked on a free throw when he was fouled. He drilled another three-pointer in the third quarter and finished the night with a season-high 13 points.
Then there was Maurer, who added 12 points to Lakeridge's cause with some hard-nose inside play. With Sandy undersized on the front line, the Pacers used Maurer as a go-to guy on occasion in the first half, and he usually delivered. And Hoch contributed 14 points to the cause with his soft touch and his non-stop hustle.
Larsen wound up being the game's high scorer with 20 points. There were times when he was content to be more of a playmaker for the Pacers, but Larsen also showed that he could bolt around his defender on occasion for an easy layin.
Granted, the Pioneers aren't exactly a powerhouse, but the Pacers showed glimpses of a team that could be tough to beat.
'I think if we put 32 minutes together, we could play with a lot of people,' Nuss said.