Short-handed Chieftains rally past Vikings

Published 1:40 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

NILES — Despite missing leading scorer Henry Weller and starter Keshawn Russell, visiting Dowagiac was able to rally past Niles in the fourth quarter for a 49-42 Wolverine Conference South Division victory Monday night.

The Chieftains were able to take advantage of a Niles team that has given up second-half leads in four of its last five games. Trailing 33-26 heading into the final quarter, Dowagiac (7-4, 3-2 Wolverine South) was able to outscore the Vikings 23-8 to keep its hopes of a division championship alive.

Dowagiac trailed Wolverine Conference leader Three Rivers by a game.

For Niles, the loss to the Chieftains was all too familiar. The Vikings were in control of the game for the first three quarters, but turned the ball over eight times and were held scoreless for more than six minutes to open the fourth quarter.

Dowagiac used a 17-0 run to catch Niles and take the lead.

“We’ve seen glimpses of how good we can be,” said Niles coach Myles Busby. “We’ve had short spurts. It’s kind of the way our practices go. We tell the kids to have championship habits. No matter who you play, you need to give 110 percent. I use the Golden State Warriors in the NBA as an example. Does Steph Curry care who he plays? Is he going to try to get 50 every night? Of course.

“We kind of panicked at the end. And I don’t think they were doing anything different. But we’ve said the same thing in other games. They’re not doing anything different. We’re the ones that are making the adjustments. We stopped doing what it was that put us up by seven. It was mental mistakes. At the end of the first half was an example. We go inside with Dimetrius (Butler) to go up by five, but we jogged down the court, and they get an uncontested three. So instead of going in at halftime up five, we’re only up two. It’s just the mental lapses we have. It’s goes back to inexperience and getting them to understand that every possession counts.”

The Chieftains turned to a few new faces to help fill the void for Weller and Russell. All played a key role in helping earn the victory, but probably none more so than Octavious Brooks. Brooks, who had scored just three points so far this season, started and more than doubled that with seven points.

“It was a team effort,” Hunt said. “We talked about getting it done without Henry. We showed that we can do that tonight. Hopefully, it will put our confidence at another level as we get to the back side of the season.”

Hunt was also happy with the way his team rallied in the fourth quarter despite the short bench.

“We picked up the pressure a little bit as far as pressuring the ball in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Instead of letting them dictate what they wanted to do, we finally had more energy and effort and forced some turnovers and started playing Dowagiac basketball.”

Jordan Hardin helped pick up the slack with a double-double as he scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds. Ethan Hannapel also picked up his game as he scored 12 points.

Niles was led by George Pullen’s 11 points. He was the only Viking to reach double figures. Butler added eight points and Jordan Edwards seven.

The Chieftains head to Edwardsburg Friday night for a key Wolverine Conference South Division contest. Niles hosts St. Joseph in a non-conference game tonight.