FULTON, Ill. – The Unity Christian basketball teams opened up their home season on Monday night, but it didn’t go as hoped.
Both teams are littered with youth or lack of depth and dropped their games to Galesburg Christian.
The Knights both return to action on Friday, traveling to Christian Life Academy.
Boys lose grip after first
A short varsity roster and a little lack of experience showed on Monday as the boys dropped their home opener 81-47.
It wasn’t always a blowout game, though. In fact, the Knights looked really solid during the first eight minutes of play despite being outsized and outmanned by the Lions.
The Knights came out keeping up with the athletic Lions, showing speed on defense and athleticism on rebounds. Even though the Lions had the all-around height advantage, Aaron VanderEide was clogging up the middle of the lane in the half court defense and the guards were staying in front of the ball.
They fell behind by a few points but called a timeout and recollected themselves, staging for a comeback.
The chipped away slowly through the remaining minutes of the first quarter. A three-point basket by Ty Bickelhaupt pulled the Knights within just two points.
The very next play, Shawn Tegeler got stuck on the baseline but bounced it into the lane to find a cutting Bickelhaupt to tie everything up 14-14. That was the last time the Knights had it tied, though.
They were trialing just by two to end the first eight minutes but things started to unravel for them when the second quarter started.
Although they still looked fine in half court defense, the Lions started beating them nearly every play off the dribble.
Not only that, but shots weren’t falling for the Knights, leaving a lot of long rebounds in the hands of the Lions that then turned into fast break layups.
Galesburg Christian went on a 15-2 run to start the second period, ending up outscoring the Knights 22-6 overall.
That deficit carried over into the half. The Knights came out with energy once again, including a solid quarter by Tyler Appel that pulled them as close as 14, but they never were able to stop the bleeding.
The Lions’ deep bench and speedy guards kept the defense tight and the turnovers high until the final buzzer rang out.
Youthful girls falter late
After a slow start followed by an impressive comeback, the youth-filled girls team fell 40-32 in their first home appearance.
“We’re young and we got a little bit excited,” co-head coach Barb Willoughby said after the game. “We are excited.”
The varsity roster has five freshman out of just eight player, leading a sophomore and two juniors as the only returning athletes.
With 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter, junior Carrie Willoughby made a layup that pulled the Knights ahead for the first time in the entire contest. Good defense on the other end and the score held going into the fourth.
They started out the fourth with another basket, this time breaking into the lane for a good shot by Olivia Woessner. Just a little over two minutes later, the Lions had tied it all up again at 30-30.
The inexperienced Knights fell victim to chaos, seeing their turnovers go up and their offense deplete in the final minutes. When the game hit the two minute mark, they were once again trailing by eight points.
“They were trying to do everything at once,” WIlloughby said. “We need a little more patience to go for the good pass, the good shot. Also, we talked about when you’re right under the basket you need to just put it back up.”
But they weren’t done. Allison Tegeler put up a shot from the middle of the lane with 1:15 remaining in the game to pull the Knights within just six. They then made a defensive stop, putting them in a position to strike again.
They couldn’t put a basket in down the stretch, though, falling eventually.
They tied everything up in the third after a slow start. Tegeler, a freshman post player, put a ball in to start the game in the first minute of play.
However, that basket would be the last score until nearly six minutes into the first when Woessner made a free throw.
“This is our first home game and the first time we’ve had our own team in a few years,” Willougby said. The Knights had been a co-op team with another Northern Illinois Christian Athletic Conference School previously. “We’re inexperienced, we’re eager. They realized in the locker room how much fun they had.”
In fact, in that time the ball was nearly entirely in Carrie Willoughby’s hands. The Knights struggle with ball handling, and against a Galesburg pressure defense it showed with high turnovers and few shots by Unity.
“We talked about less dribbling and more passing,” Willoughby said. “Plus keeping our eyes up so we know where everyone is. We haven’t seen [pressure] yet so that was new, and we talked about how to break a press but we got a little panicky. So we tried to mix it up with who brought it up the floor.”
They did get more comfortable as the game went on with Lauren Steinhauer and Michelle Striley sharing some of the ball handling duties and passes becoming more frequent. After scoring just three points in the first quarter, Michelle Striley broke the cold offense with a basket.
Emma Gabbard followed that up with a bank shot of her own. They trailed 21-14 at the half.
They then outscored the Lions 12-4 in the third.