LANSING | The question as Rich East and Illiana Christian traded baskets and the lead back and forth Tuesday night was simple: Which team would break the other's form first?
Rich East loves to run, and forces the issue with an oft-times withering press.
Illiana can play the up-tempo game, but at a more measured pace, and tried to set it by using its 3-2 zone against the Rockets' racehorse game.
In the end, the press prevailed. A 12-0 Rich East run late in the third quarter proved the difference in the Rockets' 80-62 victory.
The outcome in Illiana's home opener dropped the Vikings to 4-2. Rich East, which saw its Thanksgiving tournament plans go haywire, improved to 2-1.
"We got into their tempo," Illiana coach Tom Roozeboom said. "A silly tempo for us. This is a learning process for us."
Basketball players love to play the run-and-gun game, so it was natural that the Vikings, from Caleb Jonkman on down, went with the flow. Jonkman could handle it, scoring eight of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter, but the Rockets enjoyed a 27-16 edge in that quarter, which broke open a contest that was tied at 34 at halftime.
That was the 11th of 12 ties in the game. And the 14th lead change, coming on Nick Harden's basket (he completed the three-point play) with 2:09 left in the third, was the last. Having sucked the Vikings into the trap, Rich East's trap caused a flurry of turnovers, and the points piled up like flakes on a snowbank.
"Maybe our legs weren't under up and we took some uncharacteristic shots, but give Rich East credit," Roozeboom said. "They came in and did what they needed to do."
The Rockets weren't firing on all engines early, coach George Leonard believed. Something he said triggered the big push.
"Once they woke up and played with a little bit of passion, we weren't a half-step late anymore," Leonard said.
Rich East was led by Harden and Calvin Herrington, with 17 points each. Quin Moore and Don Henderson scored 13 each. Brandon Galambos added 10 points for Illiana.
For Illiana, it was the beginning of an NBA-style week, with three games in four nights. Tonight, they're in New Lenox, visiting Lincoln-Way Central. Friday, they play Glenbard South in a Metro Conference contest.