The initial game of the season against Monroe City was a learning experience that head coach Pat Connaway and the Van-Far varsity basketball team would be wise to pay heed considering the sporadic nature of the area landscpae.
Since then the Indians have been working hard and trying to do whatever it took to right what ailed them. One test of that came at home last week on Thursday against first-year Eastern Missouri Conference member Louisiana, and not only did the JV come out ahead 42-29, but so did the varsity 68-54.
"Defensively we were pretty good tonight. We wanted to make sure that Derek didn't beat us and we wanted to make sure we didn't ever 'lose' him," said coach Pat Connaway. "We held him to 6 first half points and we took a 15 point lead into the half. In the locker room we didn't want to celebrate we wanted to talk about continuing to do the right things and not to get relaxed and let Derek go off for 30."
Once again imposing his will to help further the Van-Far way was Trey Miller with 22 points and 10 rebounds, Caden Wilburn came through to the tune of 14 points and boards and Verlynn Johnson made an eight point contribution. Dillon Minor also flew in and dropped off six points, Verdell Johnson donated five points and adding three points each were Mel Troy, Rylee Hanson and Sam Middleton.
"Tonight we were ready to play from the opening tip and established the style of play in the early minutes. We jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never looked back," said Connaway. "Trey, Caden and Verlyn are our senior leaders and captains combined for 25 of our 32 first half points. Trey was a beast tonight. He was in total 'bull' mode and they had no answer for him. He was active on both ends of the floor, dished the ball off for easy buckets, grabbed boards, finished and had five steals on defense."
One fact that worked in Van-Far's favor was that it outscored the Bulldogs in each of the initial three quarters. This includes 16-4 in the first and 16-13 in the second to take a 32-17 lead into the break prior to claiming the third 23-18.
"We're a young team and hadn't been on the floor together, but it was good to get out there and finally get some minutes in," said Connaway. "Thursday we played a lot better and were a lot more comfortable with our sets. It was good to be in front of the home crowd and get the fan support for these young kids."
Something else that worked for Van-Far is that it connected on 18-of-28 free throws. As for what was less than spectacular for this club during this matchup, not only did it make just 23-of-65 field goals for this club from the field, buit it also went just 4-for-20 from three-point territory.
"I was please with our attention to detail and ultimately our size and strength was too much for them," Connaway said. "We were able to get a fouth foul on Derek and then once he fouled out we ballooned our lead with over six minutes to go to 62-35. It was really nice for us to rest all of our starters and let our young kids get a lot of minutes.'
Last Tuesday, Nov. 27, in Van-Far's initial road contest of this year it traveled to South Callway and, while the Indians did get outscored in the first quarter 16-9 and the fourth was a deadlock, it was still able to defeat it's hosts 67-61.
"We came out and turned the ball over way too many times in the early going. We weren't making good decisions and we were throwing the ball to places where we thought our teammates were going to be," said Connaway. "In the first quarter we turned the ball over seven of the first eight possessions. South Callaway was able to build an early nine point lead before we started to relax and make the right reads. We started off 2-for-10 from the foul line and just couldn't get the ball in the hole."
Highlighting this victory for the Indians was Miller with 16 points, Verlynn Johnson posted 15 points and Caden Wilburn turned in a 14-point effort. Tory and Colin Wilburn chipped in six points each and Verdell Johnson sported no basketbakk
"We were down seven heading into the second and coach and I decided to up the tempo and press them full court in hopes to get some turnovers and get some easy buckets to get us going," Connaway said. "We did a good job of dictating tempo and started to wear them out and were able to double them up in the quarter and were able to take a four-point lead into the locker room."