St. Henry continued its January ascent, winning its 12th game of the season against 3 losses…by reminding the protoge’ of one of the area’s iconic masters in the art of defense…that you can’t win if you can’t score.
St. Henry, OH – Young coaches, if they’re good, appreciate the lessons that come with the journey; and such was the scenario Saturday night at St. Henry as the surging Redskins of Eric Rosenbeck took the Redskins of Wapakoneta and third-year coach Trey Elchert to the blackboard.
Rosenbeck’s Redskins won the game, 57-40, their twelfth of the year against three losses, and did it by squeezing the offensive life out of Elchert’s Redskins (7-8)…in much the same manner that Elchert learned at the knee of his iconic master-of-defense father, Scott Elchert, who retired as head coach of Jackson Center last year after nearly a quarter century of preaching…DEFENSE.
Jackson Center had many great teams over the years under Elchert, Sr., and got to the OHSAA Final Four twice since 2012 not with a robust offense…but by simply scoring more than they allowed the opponent to score.
Scott Elchert didn’t just coach defense, he was the Billy Graham of defense. Denying the opposing team was a religion with him.
But presently it’s a religion with Eric Rosenbeck, who employs many of the same committed principles of denying points that Scott Elchert did for all those years – technique, pressure, communication, and relentlessness. Winners of their last eleven games in a row, St. Henry has allowed teams to reach 60 points just three times during that span, the latest being Friday night when the ‘Skins beat New Bremen in overtime, 67-64.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Rosenbeck, afterwards. “They (Wapakoneta) were doing a lot of dribble weave, had us spread out, and we adapted to it without a lot of reps in practice. We challenged shots all night, and it was awesome to see.”
Once again, to paraphrase Rosenbeck on numerous occasions, St. Henry’s best offense feeds off St. Henry’s best defense – deflections, steals, turnovers, and points in transition. Create havoc for the other team with your defense, and the points on offense will follow.
“One shot and out, and if the ball doesn’t go through the hoop, it’s an easier game,” added Rosenbeck. “That’s why we got down to New Bremen last night. We weren’t getting stops with our defense. When we do get defensive stops, it’s the key to our offense.
“We made some tough shots tonight that we didn’t make last night, shots that banked in from the top of the key. And there were at least fifteen of them last night that didn’t go in. So maybe it was our night tonight.”
For the first 16 minutes, however, Wapakoneta and Elchert gave as good as they got, holding St. Henry to just 10 points in the first quarter and 17 in the second. And of their 27 first half points, Logan Link and Evan Bowers were highly responsible, each of them hitting a pair of three-pointers.
Wapak, on the other hand, trailed in proportion to St. Henry, scoring 9 in the first and 12 in the second to trail by 6 at the break, 27-21. But every one of those points came hard, and visibly, it took a lot out of the Wapak lineup.
“They’re hard to play against,” said Elchert, later, while studying the scorebook. “They’re a load. But I thought we did some things through about 18 minutes, and credit to them…they hit some really tough shots. But that’s who they are. They have kids who can make tough shots, and they made them tonight.”
No one appreciates defense more than Elchert, now in his third season as coach at Wapakoneta. And in a day where points appear to come with increasing difficulty at every level of basketball, does the continued commitment to defensive intensity make it a better game for coaches, kids, and fans alike?
“We obviously pride ourselves on our defense,” says Elchert. “But unfortunately (or ironically) tonight we weren’t able to string enough stops together. Now all in all, I thought we were able to execute our defensive game plan for the most part…but again, they had some kids that knocked down shots despite the effort. (Logan) Link hit three 3s tonight, and coming into the game he hadn’t been shooting it great. But credit to him, tonight he did.”
That said, Wapak played the first four minutes of the third quarter even with St. Henry, Caleb Moyer collecting six of his team-high 8 points for the game.
But St. Henry trumped Wapak’s 14-point quarter with 17 of its own, on 3s from Luke Beyke and Logan Link, negating Elchert’s defensive game plan, 17-14.
And to Rosenbeck’s long-held assertion that his offense hits high gear once the defense wears down the opponent, St. Henry wore down Wapak in the final eight minutes, scoring one transition bucket after another to extend the third quarter score of 44-35, to a 57-40 final. Wapak would score just 5 points in those final eight minutes.
When you’re shooting layups off turnovers you tend to get multiple players in double figures, as St. Henry did. Evan Bowers led all scorers in the game with 16 points, while Caden Bergman had 11, and Luke Beyke had 10. Logan Link used his three 3s to accumulate 9 points, Hayden Boeckman added 7…Carter LaGuire and Devin Delzeith each had 2.
For Wapak the scoring summary wasn’t nearly has happy. Moyer led them with 8 points, while Kaden Page and Nate Metzger each added 7.
It’s a subject that you increasingly hear regarding contemporary basketball. Is the game, itself, suffering as a result of diminished scoring and lack of shooting skills? And is the increased commitment to defense even fun to watch? They even claim it’s why they changed the free throw rule from one and the bonus after seven fouls in the half, to two shots after five fouls in a quarter.
When hall of fame coach Abe Lemmons was at the University of Texas, he was criticized by local press one night after the Longhorns had beaten Oklahoma and each team eclipsed 90 points. Texas finally won the game with a pair of free throws with no time on the clock.
A reporter asked Lemmons afterwards with some snark: “Did you ever consider changing your defense, maybe play some zone, or try anything different?”
Lemmons, one of the truly colorful men of his era, answered this way: “The house was full of fans tonight. Am I right?”
The assembled press nodded their head in agreement.
“Well then,” he drawled, “I’m bettin’ they came to watch kids shoot the basketball, and not to watch me coach.”
Today, they come to watch kids win, whatever it takes.
And it changes from one night to the next – the modern irony of basketball.
The irony of defense, Saturday, for Trey Elchert.