ST. JOHN | The highlight dunks, 3-point shooting and crisp passing are just the surface of Lake Central’s recent impressive play.
A lockdown defense is what draws the praise of cerebral basketball professionals like Portage coach Rick Snodgrass.
After Lake Central turned a relatively close game into a 57-41 rout of their guests from Portage by allowing just one field goal and one free throw in the third quarter of Friday night’s Duneland Athletic Conference game, props were due.
“That was the first time all year anybody dominated us like that on defense,” Snodgrass said, adding that Valparaiso was nearly as dominant. “They’re playing really well right now. That was the best half-court defense I’ve seen them play since I’ve been here.”
Lake Central turned a 28-21 halftime lead into a 46-24 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
“We were more conscious of people, jumping gaps and getting through screens,” L.C. coach Dave Milausnic said. “We communicated better.”
The first-half lead was a result of Portage’s half-court defense being mismatched by bigger players such as Lake Central behemoth Tyler Wideman, who scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the first half, mostly against a 2-3 zone.
“Our ball movement has improved immensely since the last time we played them [a 55-43 L.C. win Dec. 20], and consequently our shooting percentages have been in the high 40s and 50s,” Milausnic said. “When you shoot like that the outcome should be in your favor. Our kids did a nice job finding the open man.”
The Indians (10-5, 8-3) had one turnover in the first half, only seven for the game, and they shot 70 percent from the beginning of the second quarter till the end of the third and were 21-of-41 (51.2 percent) for the game.
L.C. plays in Indianapolis against Cathedral this afternoon.
“We tried to come out tonight with energy and get a streak rolling for our big game (today),” L.C. guard Joe Bannister said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games, and the coaches told us it was time to start dominating some teams.”
L.C.’s scoring outside of Wideman was balanced. Bannister had nine points, and Matt Meneghetti and Robert Ryan added eight each.
“We are starting to really feel each other a lot and develop a lot of chemistry,” Bannister said. “It really started in practice and carried into games.”
Portage (9-10, 2-9) led 12-11 after one quarter and held a 17-16 lead with 4:30 to go in the second quarter after Peter Psomadelis, who led the visitors in scoring, hit a 3-pointer. A Meneghetti 3 put L.C. up for good at 19-17.
Portage lost Gage Pearman to knee surgery this week and struggled in the post, especially with Wideman dunking, rebounding and passing to open teammates for 3s.
“We had a good game plan going in,” Snodgrass said. “The third quarter, with their physical size and physical defense, they just beat us. They flat out got after it and wore us down.”