UNION TOWNSHIP | Lake Station's three-headed backcourt monster of Brian Patterson, Dwayne Haden and Kyle Gooch were a nightmare for Wheeler on Friday.
You know the kind, the bad dream that makes you leap from your pillow, heart racing, in a cold sweat.
"I have a biased opinion, but I think we have three of the best guards in the area," Eagles coach Bob Burke said after the trio sparked a 64-40 Greater South Shore Conference rout of the Bearcats. "They feed off each other. When one's down, the others get on him right away. When all three are going, the sky's the limit for them."
Patterson rented out space at the free-throw line, hitting 15 of 20 on his way to a 27-point night to complement the up-tempo attack.
"We practice that a lot," Patterson said, "going hard to the basket."
Gooch, who had eight interceptions during football, snagged nine of L.S.'s 20 steals, and booked 14 points. The speedy, in-your-jersey Haden came up with five steals and doled out four assists.
"They've got an experienced group," Wheeler coach Tom Johnson said. "On the flip side, we're very young and inexperienced. Their guards are very good. Their pressure got to us. We knew if we turned the ball over and gave up second-chance points, it would be a long night for us."
Lake Station brought the pressure from the jump, turning Wheeler over nine times in the first quarter to trigger its transition game.
"We do a mixture of things," Burke said. "We went to a first-pass trap. We're able to jump in and out of stuff. They're juniors and seniors. They're understanding the game more."
Wheeler went on a 3-point binge to get back in the game in the second quarter. The Bearcats hit four straight from deep, two each by James Miller and Trent Foster, to claw within a basket late in the second. They trailed 34-32 early in the third before the well went dry.
"We battled back," Johnson said. "They just really wore us down. This was a big learning night for us. It's going to help make us a better team down the road."
Again fueled by its flypaper D, the Eagles ran off the last 12 points of the third quarter to go up 16 and cruised from there.
"It's something we've tried to put in the last year-and-a-half," Burke said. "We get after it at the defensive end, it just makes our offense so much easier. Last year, it was like we were afraid to make the step. Now our leadership won't let them take a moment off, in practice or in a game."
Miller and sophomore Jared Catherman (five assists) notched 12 points for Wheeler, which finished with 25 turnovers.
Ben Neals chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds for L.S.
"I think this can be one of the best years we've ever had," Patterson said.