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Column: How the game is played

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 11:46 a.m. CDT

DEKALB – Tony Dunlap wouldn’t spend any time Wednesday making plans for Thursday and Friday.

The Eastland coach didn’t want to hear anything about it before the final buzzer of the Cougars’ 1A NIU Supersectional game against Newark.

He had good reason. Dunlap sat in the media room in the bowels of the Convocation Center after the Cougars’ 51-41 victory proud and more than just a little relieved.

“I’ve had times in this room that were pretty tough,” Dunlap said. “I have had a good time, and some rough times. I wasn’t going to talk about tomorrow at all until this was over.”

This was Dunlap’s third trip to DeKalb for a supersectional. His first trip was a blowout loss to St. Anne in 2008. The last time was a 2010 win, also over Newark.

In between those times, there have been some good teams that saw runs end, often against tough opponents and sometimes just by bad luck. 

The one thing that hasn’t changed much is how the Cougars play. To put it in one word, it’s physical.

That’s the word Newark coach Rick Tollefson used when asked about the Eastland defense. His most-pleaded case was the glove-like performance of Skylar Paulson on Newark star Brett Anderson.

“They played very physical on defense,” Tollefson said. “There was a lot of contact, enough to make Brett adjust. I pled my case, but obviously not well enough. But that’s the game.”

For three quarters, Anderson was bottled up like soda at the Coca-Cola factory. Paulson barely left his side and, when Anderson did find an opening, it was closed by teammates, most often Ty Hartman and Austin Hansen.

“Every time I got the ball, there was a guy right on top of me,” Anderson said. “When I did get around him, there was one or two guys right there to stop me.”

A lot of that is Paulson, who also held scoring machine Jacob Johnston of Erie to nine points in the sectional semifinal.

“He liked to go right and then step back and shoot a 3,” Paulson said of Anderson. “When he didn’t do that, he liked to go baseline.”

A lot of stopping Anderson, who tallied 2,100-plus points in his career, is instinct bred into players like Paulson and Hartman through years of practice.

“These guys probably don’t like it, but every practice starts with defense,” Dunlap said. “It’s what we focus on. With Anderson, the kid had 2,100 points, so you have to spend a lot of time focusing on him.”

A lot of it is just being physical.

Newark’s coach might not have liked it. Anderson didn’t get used to it in time – although he did finish with 15 points after scoring eight in the fourth quarter.

But being physical is the game. Tollefson even said it. 

Hansen didn’t even notice.

“Being physical isn’t really something we even talked about before the game,” Hansen said. “I didn’t even think it was any more physical than any of our other games. That’s just how we play.”

That’s how they play, and that has a lot to do with Dunlap and his staff.

Now, he can think about tomorrow, and a second trip to the state tournament. 

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