LAKE STATION | Friday night marked the first matchup ever between No. 6 Kouts and Lake Station. But it was not the first time that the two coaches had faced off against each other.
Before he came to Lake Station, Bob Burke played and coached in the Hebron system. He remembered the first time he went up against The Mustangs’ Marty Gaff.
“I played 14 years ago, and Marty had been around a long time then,” Burke said. “Kouts was always the game we had circled on the calendar. It was a big deal then, and I want our boys to think of it as a big deal now.”
Kouts was able to pass the test and stay undefeated. With three scorers in double digits, the Mustangs won their seventh game of the year, 59-48 in a nonconference game at the Eagles Nest.
The Eagles (2-3) came out playing tough man-to-man, applying as much pressure as they could to slow down the Mustangs. The strategy worked, as Lake Station forced five turnovers in the first quarter on their way to an 11-7 lead.
But Kouts (7-0) adjusted, and went on a 12-1 run to start the second quarter. Andrew Birky nailed four baskets, including a 3-pointer, to give the Mustangs a 19-12 lead.
“We are quick, but we are not big,” Burke said. “So we have to play good solid defense for 32 minutes or we are in trouble. Letting them get on that run really hurt.”
The two teams traded baskets during the last minutes of the half, and Kouts led 25-18 at the break.
Kouts has had the benefit of strong scoring balance this year, with four players averaging double figures.
“It’s been harder to defend us with the scoring spread out like it has been,” Gaff said. “It also helps out a lot on nights when part of our game is a little cold.”
The Eagles’ starters got into foul trouble in the third quarter, and the Mustangs slowly built a double-digit lead. Birky scored six more points, and Max Everaert scored six to give Kouts a 42-32 lead after three.
Lake Station tried several unsuccessful 3-pointers in the fourth, trying to cut the lead back down.
“Kouts is not an easy team to play catch-up against,” Burke said. “We needed to keep it closer when we had a chance.”
True to form, the Mustangs displayed well-balanced scoring. Birky finished with 16 points, and Everaert had 12. Matt Stewart had a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Cody Nelson scored nine and grabbed three steals.
Dwayne Haden led the Eagles with 14 points, including two 3-pointers. Brian Patterson scored nine.
Gaff felt the Mustangs still needed some work on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re giving up too many good looks at the basket,” he said. “We need to tighten up a little on the looks we give them.”