HAMMOND | Sitting on the bench as a group in the second quarter is foreign territory for Kouts' starting five.
After a lackluster opening nine minutes in which the Mustangs fell behind Pioneer, coach Matt Stewart yanked his No. 1s.
"I don't think they were ready to play," Crawford said. "The long drive, the snowy weather, it was a combination of things, but part of being successful is doing what you have to do regardless of the circumstances."
Kouts trailed 15-10 when the starters returned after a break of more than three minutes, and they clearly got the message. The Mustangs outscored the Panthers (1-7) 20-4 in the last 3:39 of the half and pulled away for a 59-39 victory in Wednesday's Times Region Roundball Rumble at the Hammond Civic Center.
"I hate getting pulled out. The others do, too," Cody Nelson said. "But it was the right thing. We weren't playing hard defense. We weren't involved. It was a wake-up call. If we weren't going to play defense like we're supposed to, we were going to be back sitting on the bench."
Nelson scored 11 points in the decisive second-quarter stretch, when Kouts (7-0) began to create offense with its defense.
"They responded after the message was sent," Crawford said. "We put the pressure on."
Pioneer finished with 20 turnovers.
"Turnovers have bugged us all year," Pioneer coach Austin Cowley said. "They put pressure on us, and they forced us into some turnovers."
Nathan Ballesteros came up with five steals for Kouts, while Matt Stewart blocked six shots and snagged 15 rebounds.
"Matt's a great asset to have at the back of the 2-3 zone," Crawford said. "It's very important to have a good bench, people who can step up and change the game when they come in, and our guys did a great job of that."
Kouts' lead never shrunk below 10 in the second half and reached as much as 23 before Crawford cleared the bench late. This time, there was no stern message.
"The guys we bring in, we don't lose anything," Nelson said. "Our JV's 6-0. We've got a lot of good players who are ready for varsity time. There's just all the juniors and seniors in front of them. When we bring them in, we feel like it's just another fresh varsity player."