LANARK – The Eastland Cougars played in fits and starts Wednesday night – and when they got things started, they gave the Annawan Braves fits.
Eastland showed flashes of brilliance during the opening day of its own tournament, and used several strong spurts during those flashes to pull away for a 63-39 victory.
"We looked like a dimmer switch out there," Eastland coach Tony Dunlap said. "Our inconsistency is not a good thing; I don't like having that on-off switch. I want them to turn the switch on at the opening tip and off after the final buzzer.
"But we had enough guys doing enough good things that we got the win – we just have to get over that problem of being inconsistent."
The Cougars (8-2) used an 11-2 first-quarter run to take the lead, and they never gave it back. Ty Hartman (15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) scored their first eight points of the game.
Annawan's Austin Bitting hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to end the first quarter to get the Braves (2-10) to within 16-14, but Eastland opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run to regain control. Dalton Shaner (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals) hit a pair of layups and Skylar Paulson (11 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) hit a pair of bunnies in the run.
"We didn't start off with as much energy as we needed, especially on offense," Shaner said. "Once we got into the second quarter, we started setting harder screens and making harder cuts – and the shots always seem to fall easier when you play with more energy."
The Cougars closed the first half with a 6-1 spurt, then opened the second with an 8-2 surge. They put the game away by scoring the final 10 points of the third quarter and first five of the fourth. Hartman hit Shaner on a basket cut to open the run, then the two hit back-to-back 3-pointers; Shaner followed a basket by Adam Blair (6 points) with another 3 to give Eastland a 57-27 lead with 6:41 to play.
"It seemed like we gave up a lot of little runs that really hurt us," Annawan coach Brandon Chrosty said. "We'd play right with them for a little bit, then they'd hit some quick shots and we'd have a few quick turnovers. It was a physical game, and they dominated the boards and really outplayed us underneath."
Eastland outrebounded the Braves 46-26; the Cougars had 21 offensive rebounds to Annawan's 10. Half of Paulson's dozen rebounds were of the offensive variety, and Eastland repeatedly had second and third chances to score thanks to hustle plays and tenacity on the glass.
"It gets us pumped up when we give ourselves extra chances to score," Paulson said. "We crash the boards as hard as we can, and either shoot a layup or find a wide-open shooter to pass it to. We seem to shoot it a lot better after offensive rebounds."
Michael Fahey had seven points, three rebounds and two assists for the Cougars, while Austin Hansen contributed four assists and three boards. Marshall Fink finished with four points and four rebounds.
Mike Smith led the Braves with 10 points and seven rebounds, and his brother Micam added four points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists. Tony Gripp scored eight points and nabbed two steals, and Grant Baele chipped in seven points and two assists.
Eastland 63, Annawan 39
Star of the game: Dalton Shaner, Eastland, 18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals
Key performers: Ty Hartman, Eastland, 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks; Skylar Paulson, Eastland, 11 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks; Mike Smith, Annawan, 10 points, 7 rebounds
Up next: Eastland Tournament, Eastland vs. Warren, 5:30 p.m. today