Vikings split with visiting Tigers
NILES – It was night and day in the Niles gymnasium Thursday evening.
Hosting Benton Harbor in their final game before winter break, the Lady Vikings basketball team breezed past the Tigers, 81-28 in the opening game, while Niles’ boys suffered a tough loss against undefeated and defending Class B state champion Benton Harbor, 80-37.
Head coach Jessica Johnson was all smiles after hear team’s victory, crediting Niles’ offensive play as being one of the best she has seen.
“I’m just so proud of these girls right now,” she said. “They played a fantastic offensive game. Things are really starting to come together for us and tonight our hard work really showed.”
Three Viking players had double digits on the night. Aynslee Myer led her team with 25 points, which included five 3-pointers. Alycia Patterson had 20 and Reese Davies rounded out the scorers with 14.
“Aynslee had one of the best nights of her career,” Johnson said. “She came out on fire and gave us a really great game. And Alycia always comes out strong for us. She is just an all-around great player. Reese came through big tonight as well. It was a team effort from everyone tonight.”
The Vikings jumped to an early 24-8 lead after the first period and entered halftime up 38-19. An additional 27 points from Niles in the third quarter sealed the win. The Lady Vikes improve to 4-2 overall.
Niles has no games scheduled for the next two weeks due to winter break, but Johnson said they will continue to work hard in practice and keep their eyes on what lies ahead in 2019. St. Joseph will travel to Niles on Jan. 11 for a conference game set for 5:45 p.m.
In boys action, Niles faced several challenges against Benton Harbor, who stands 5-0 on the season.
When it came to height, the Tigers’ roster consisted of seven players who stood 6’4” or taller. Though Niles’ tallest player — Richie Heath — stands at 6-foot-7, the rest of the Viking roster is around 6-foot and under.
“We knew coming in we could not match up with them physically. Their size and athleticism really caused problems for us on the boards and with taking care of the ball,” said Niles head coach Tyler Dendy.
Next came the speed, which is something the Tigers are always known for, and what allowed Benton Harbor to burst to a 23-6 lead after the first quarter. By halftime, Niles trailed 47-20.
“No matter what the score was, Benton Harbor is always looking to pressure you and turn you over,” Dendy said. “They dominated us in every aspect.”
By the third period, Niles fell even further behind as Benton Harbor carried a 72-32 into the fourth. The fatigue of the Vikings was evident, mostly likely due to a smaller roster than usual. Niles recently lost four players due to various reasons and currently has eight players dressed.
Dendy said his kids never gave up, they were just intimidated from the get go and it was something they couldn’t get passed as the game clock started.
“Our kids saw every Benton Harbor player dunk in warm ups before the refs came out. Benton Harbor will be tough to beat if they continue to play like they did against us,” Dendy added.
Brayden Lake scored 22 of Niles’ 37 points, including five 3-pointers. No other Viking player scored double digits.
Benton Harbor’s biggest pawn — Carlos Johnson — a two-time all-state athlete who is currently being scouted by several Division 1 colleges, was the leading scorer for the Tigers, ending the night with 21 points, including two dunks.
“Our goal was to focus on slowing down Carlos and making his teammates beat us,” Dendy said. “I felt like we did a good job of making him earn his points, but his teammates crashed the boards and hit shots.”
The Vikings, who have yet to win a conference game (0-4 league, 2-5 overall) return to action on Jan. 11 when they host St. Joseph. Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m.
“We are a couple of possessions away from being 4-3 instead of 2-5,” Dendy said. “We will continue to focus on getting better each and every day. Losing is not fun and can be discouraging, but we can’t obsess over the losses. We have to learn from them.”