Evanston’s Kade Lym blocks a Kelly Walsh shot during the Red Devils’ win over the Trojans. Photo by Anna M. Kunz
EVANSTON — The Evanston Red Devils basketball team held court over the weekend, more specifically home-court, on Jan. 18 and 19, opening their 4A West Conference season with a pair of victories over the Casper schools.
Currently riding a three-game win streak dating back to the Jan. 12 home win over Jackson, the Red Devils dispatched the fourth-ranked Natrona County Mustangs, 57-51, on Friday night, and followed up with a 47-36 win over the Casper Kelly Walsh Trojans. The Red Devils upped their season record to 9-6.
Natrona and Kelly Walsh split over the weekend, alternating conference contests with Evanston and Green River, meaning the Wolves, Evanston’s next opponent, went winless in their home conference openers.
The Red Devils led wire-to-wire, jumping out to a 7-0 lead, and led 19-11 with one quarter complete. The Red Devils established leads of 10 and 12 throughout the game, only to witness the Mustangs storm back briefly. But the Red Devils never relinquished the lead. There were also no ties, although the Mustangs did put together some nice runs.
For a team not exactly adept in shooting the three-point shot, coming into the ballgame converting only 25 percent from beyond the arc, the Mustangs kept themselves in the game with the long-ball. They were close to 75 percent in the first half, and 50 to 60 for the ballgame, missing a few in the late stages of the game, in what could be termed as desperation shots, many somewhat forced, or not “good looks.”
Kelly Walsh hit nine in the game, with five coming in the first half, which included four from downtown in the second quarter — the only eight-minute period where Natrona outscored Evanston, 18-14, to pull within four. The Red Devils led 33-29 at the half, and 48-42 entering the fourth quarter. The Mustangs got as close as two several times, and even made it a one-point differential, with a number of opportunities to capture the lead, but again, it never happened.
Games without a tie or lead-change, at least early on, are much more the exception than the rule.
Evanston head coach Roy Barker told the Herald, in his postgame radio interview, that the Red Devils had not really prepared for a good outside shooting team. Instead, the strategy centered around the center, six-foot, six-inch senior, Nathan Pieper, a returning starter from last year’s squad, and the Mustangs’ leading scorer, averaging 13 points per game. Chandler Meeboer, and a six-foot three-inch senior, saw a lot of time last year, and was averaging 8.7 PPG, along with Connor True, standing six-foot-four, also contributing about eight points per game.
The Red Devils brain trust believed countering the Mustangs’ size advantage and related production to be one of the major keys to victory for the Red Devils. But the head coach acknowledged how quickly things can change, and a big part of coaching is making adjustments during the game, with an “expect the unexpected” philosophy.
“The game plan was to stop those big kids,” Barker explained. “True and Pieper, those guys scared us to death, but we also knew Parker, Meeboer and Bratton could shoot it, but their bread and butter was the inside game, and we wanted to take that away.”
To Natrona County’s unexpected long-ball prowess, Barker stated, “I don’t think we did a good job of closing out with our hands up, but they did a great job of knocking down shots.”
And some were deep three-point attempts, a la Gillette.
Senior Matt Johnson, Evanston’s lone returning starter, leads his team in many categories, but at six-feet, two-inches, Johnson is usually undersized as a post player, often charged with guarding much taller players, while also expected to score against them. But it works both ways. Many of the taller centers and posts are not quick enough to stay with Johnson, who along with team help-side defense, limited NC’s Pieper to just four points.
“You know, Matt, his experience last year was invaluable,” Barker said of his leading rebounder, scorer, shot-blocker and steals leader. “Last year, Matt was primarily a defender, called upon to score, sure, and did score when we needed him to, but it was his job to shut down taller post players, who could score, so I think he’s used to it, that responsibility, and he’s matured. This year, he’s usually not picking up fouls like he was last year, those cheap, quick fouls, forcing him to have to sit for a quarter. He’s just playing much smarter, defensively, this year.”
Another couple of seniors, who have certainly demonstrated the ability to score, in Kade Lym and Jemini Leckie, both really seemed to ratchet up their defensive intensity with the start of the conference season. When that thought was mentioned, the head coach responded, “We, as a coaching staff, have been hard on those two, Mr. Lym and Mr. Leckie, Kade and Jemini, offensively and defensively, to get better.”
The coach continued.
“They’ve both responded, and I’m proud that they are doing what we ask of them,” he said. “And when you’re doing things the right way, and you start to see results, you feel good. You dive after the loose ball, play tough defense, you really go after that rebound. You do all the little things that help your team have their best chance to win, and set a great example. It’s senior leadership, and it’s an expectation of our program.”
The coach also praised his bench players.
“We know Austin Bowen and Bradi Purcell can score,” Barker noted. “They’re just a little tentative. And Colton Welling? You leave him open, and he’s going to knock it down. Nathan Chandler got some great weakside back-cuts, and that’s what he needs to do more often. He’s a slasher type of player, and he can be really effective doing just that.”
The coach also spoke of the importance of defending the home-court, especially in conference play, and how pleased he was with the junior varsity’s win over a talented Natrona County team, singling out the play of six-foot, seven-inch junior Cole Revelli.
“He’s just flat coming around,” he said. “Cole is getting stronger from that broken leg injury, and continues to improve his game and get better.”
Barker also seemed eager to share his thoughts on Cain Atkinson’s role with the team, when asked, and his thoughts are included in a sports column in this issue.
Kade Lym, among Evanston’s top-three scorers all season long, shared game-high honors with Johnson, for the first time this season, against Jackson, the Red Devils’ last opponent. This time, it was all Lym, with a game-high 20, his season-high, and believed to be his Red Devil career-high. The six-foot senior’s sharpshooting enabled Evanston to jump out to the early advantage, with eight first-quarter points, and 13 at the half, connecting on three treys.
Johnson hit for about his average, ending with 18. The Brothers Johnson combined for 26 of Evanston’s 47, as Alek chipped in eight. Taylor Siemers, playing multiple spots, added seven, with Leckie hitting a big three early on.
The Red Devils’ line was 14 field goals, 5 three-point baskets, and a 14-23 performance from the free-throw line for 61 percent.
The Mustangs’ line consisted of 10 field goals, 9 three-pointers, and converting 4-7 at the stripe.
Parker Browning and Chandler Meeboer reached double-digit scoring for NC, with 14 and 10, respectively.
Unofficially, Evanston committed 14 turnovers, with just 10 for Natrona County.
The Mustangs bounced back to convincingly regulate the Wolves in Green River on Saturday, 77-46, to begin their 4A Conference season at 1-1, with a 5-8 overall mark. Don’t be surprised if Evanston re-enters the Wyoprep’s.com Coaches and Media poll top five, and the Mustangs fall out.
Versus the Kelly Walsh Trojans
The Trojans came in with a 2-0 conference record, having won an unusual — because it was early, Dec. 7 — 4A West showdown with Rock Springs, and delivered their own brand of wolf management on Friday night, Jan. 18, in Green River, 75-53. The Trojans have been in and out of the top five, as far as rankings go. They are a young team, with what Barker referred to, as having very strong guards, and a proven coach in Randy Roden.
Three ties and one lead change highlighted the first quarter, with Evanston up 8-7. Siemers spurred the Red Devils with 7 second quarter points, and had 10 at the half, as the Red Devils netted 17, while holding the Trojans to 8 for a 10-point halftime lead, 25-15.
The Red Devils bumped the lead to 14 with three in the books, 40-26, entering the fourth quarter. The Trojans were three better than the Red Devils in the final quarter, but it wasn’t enough. The Red Devils rose to 2-0, and currently sit atop the 4A West Conference standings, with a 9-6 overall record.
The standings after last weekend:
• Evanston, 2-0, 9-6
• Riverton, 1-0, 14-1
• Kelly Walsh, 1-1, 7-8
• Natrona County, 1-1, 5-8
• Rock Springs, 0-1, 5-9
• Green River, 0-2, 4-10
Siemers and Leckie shared game-high honors with 11, with Matt Johnson adding 10. One score book showed Siemers with 13 on his father’s birthday, but he’s no stranger to having points taken away. Lym contributed 8 before fouling out with 3:56 left to play.
Evanston totaled 12 field goals, three treys and shot 14-24 from the free-throw line for 58 percent. The Red Devils forced three turnovers for every two they gave away through the first three quarters, but unofficially ended with 10, one more than the Trojans’ nine.
Kooper Adams led Kelly Walsh with nine, with Beecher Strube adding seven.
The Red Devils have one more home conference game before taking to the road for a while, as they will join the Lady Red Devils this Friday, Jan. 25, in hosting Green River.