GARY | Murray Richards had a perfect game plan heading into Friday night's Gary Holiday Tournament championship game on West Side's home floor.
First, play the 2-3 zone with long arms and fast feet to keep Lew Wallace's slashers out of the paint.
Second, employ a “Hack a Coop” philosophy on Hornets' star Charles Cooper, who has been struggling mightily from the free-throw line in recent weeks.
Both worked as the Cougars beat the Hornets 69-58, snapping Wallace's three-year run as Gary Holiday Tournament champions.
It was the Cougars' first holiday crown since 2007-08.
“That was the game plan,” said Richards, West Side's coach. “If Wallace isn't hitting the 3, they're attacking the baseline, coming in from the perimeter. Our guys played a great defensive game. That's a good team we just beat.”
Arnold Wilson led West Side (5-3) with 22 points. Denzel Casson scored 13 and JaRe' Glover added 11.
“This is in our house every year so it's important that we got one,” Wilson said. “We want to get another one next year, too. We are a defensive team. Our defense fuels our offense. We got them both going tonight.”
Cooper had 27 points, but the senior was 10-of-22 from the line for the Hornets (7-5). Devin Harris scored 11 for Wallace and Keontae Bridges had 10.
Wallace coach Melvin Yancey wasn't talking about West Side's defense or anything else. There was only one thing on his mind.
“Free throws were the difference in the game,” said Yancey, who watched his program have its championship run in this event snapped by poor foul shooting.
The Hornets were 13-of-29 from the line as a team.
“That's the game right there,” Yancey said.
Unlike the Cougars, Wallace had to play a semifinal game on Friday morning against Olive Harvey Prep, which the Hornets won 87-42.
“I think we were a little tired,” Yancey said. “This will absolutely help us down the road, playing two games in one day and playing a 4A school.”
West Side led 33-27 at halftime. The Hornets' offense went south in the second quarter. Wallace did not score its first points until 3:27 was left on a bucket by Charles Cooper.
Casson sparked the Cougars with nine first half points off the bench. Teammate Tyrell Bullock also had nine in the first half.