By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — A team with superior athletes won’t always win on athleticism alone, especially when the opposition leans on its basketball I.Q. and executes its game plan accordingly.
What unfolded Wednesday afternoon at Cougar Gym was a prime example.
The Indiana University Kokomo men used patience and smarts to break down hounding full-court pressure from a much longer, more athletic Salem International squad in a 108-98 victory over the NCAA Division-II Tigers.
The host Cougars put six players in double figures and took advantage of 35 Salem fouls by finishing 45 of 54 at the free throw line, delivering what coach Jace Thompson called his NAIA Division-II program’s biggest win in three seasons.
“We’re built off of I.Q., and when teams want to get out and trap us, our kids are good about sharing the ball and looking the other way,” Thompson said. “[We] defeated them with [our] heads. They didn’t dribble. They looked the zone off. It’s kind of like playing quarterback – you look the zone off, you turn and look the other way and that guy’s going to be open. Every single one of our guys did a good job of being their own quarterback [Wednesday].”
The game was originally scheduled to be played Tuesday, but Salem’s team bus broke down Monday en route to Indiana. After spending over seven hours stranded on the highway, the team went back to its campus in West Virginia and tried again Tuesday, reaching Kokomo at 11:30 Tuesday night.
“But that didn’t beat us,” said Salem coach Randy Unger, a Northfield High School product. His team was whistled for three technical fouls and had four players foul out.
”Our mental approach to the game was not good and we weren’t ready to play,” Unger added. “[IUK] played hard and executed. They’re a well-coached team and did a great job. Our hats are off to them, but our kids didn’t show up to play [Wednesday], and some times that happens.”
Salem (8-6) grabbed seven steals in the first half, but the Cougars countered with a 12-for-24 performance from the field and 19-of-23 firing from the line in the same span to take a 43-40 lead into halftime.
IUK took advantage of Salem’s aggressiveness more than the Tigers’ press created havoc in the first half. The Cougars routinely beat Salem up the floor, where center Dylan Mosack was the major benefactor. Mosack poured in 25 points in the first half, hitting 9 of 12 from the floor and 13 of 14 from the line, earning his keep around the rim with the Tigers playing catch up after getting caught cheating in passing lanes.
“It’s was just a matter of getting used to the pressure, and once we got used to it, everybody did their part,” Mosack said. “Coach prepared us really well in practice. We spent a lot of time on how to break the press. We haven’t been pressed a whole lot this year, but coach prepared us well and everyone did their part, I thought.”
IUK (4-12) started the second half on a 14-4 run and stretched its lead out to 15 with 10 minutes to play at 76-61 on a Nick Teeter 3-pointer from the right wing.
Salem came to life with a lightning-quick 13-2 surge over a span of 90 seconds to pull within 84-79 with seven minutes to play, but the Tigers would get no closer than five the rest of the way.
Mosack finished with a game-high 31 points, and his nine rebounds tied teammate David Kelly for the game high. Kelly added 21 points in 25 minutes while battling muscle cramps. Teeter added 17 points and five assists, while starters Aaron Knupp and Jerome Campbell added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Spencer Krhin added 12 points off the bench to round out a balanced Cougar attack.
”The biggest thing our guys did was share the ball” Thompson said. “We always made the extra pass to the open guy. If you can do that against a press like we did [Wednesday] – I was impressed. We had one kid who dribbled it against the press when he shouldn’t have, and to have that throughout a game is great.”
With losses to NCAA Division-I schools IPFW and Tennessee Tech, NAIA Division-I Shawnee State and Rio Grande, and NAIA Division-II top-10 teams in IU Southeast and Indiana Wesleyan in the rear-view mirror, Wednesday’s win can be a key springboard into the back half of the Cougars’ season, Thompson feels.
“We have some games coming that we know if we go out and attack like we did [Wednesday] we can win,” he added. “I’m not going to make excuses, but if you look at our schedule … we don’t play cupcakes. We have to finish in our conference play down the line here, and I’m sure we can use this to go [do that]. We’re 2-0 in 2014, so that’s huge for us.”