Watson sleuths a variety of ways to help as ECA takes hoop opener over Memorial
ELKHART — Among Elkhart Christian’s quality quartet of seasoned seniors, Tanner Watson was the only one who didn’t reach at least the teens in scoring during the Eagles’ 63-40 season-opening boys high school basketball victory over Elkhart Memorial — finishing with a scant three points — but that didn’t mean Watson didn’t locate plenty of other ways to contribute on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Capping a festive debut for host ECA — new court, new paint along the walls, an addition of a spotlight for introductions, with about 500 enthusiastic fans soaking it up in the school’s tiny gym — the Eagles didn’t disappoint, soaring to their first-ever win over the Crimson Chargers.
And that foursome of returning starters from a 14-8 club led the way, including Watson, whose two blocked shots in the opening minute of the third quarter set up a pair of baskets as ECA quickly extended its 29-15 halftime lead to 33-15.
“I kind of knew offensively I wasn’t playing like I normally do,” Watson said. “I wanted to do anything I could to help us win, and I thought I could with rebounds and assists.”
Don’t forget blocks. He ended with a game-high three of those to go with his game-high six assists and his eight boards.
“I knew I had a little bit of length on the guy I was guarding,” said Watson, a 6-foot-3 guard, “and when he got past me a couple times, I kind of knew if I just went up and used my length and made sure not to reach, I could still block the shot.”
“There’s momentum builders in a game, and those are sometimes points, but there’s also plays that keep a team from making a run, and Tanner’s blocks were those,” ECA coach Ryan Culp said. “He’s a player capable of scoring in the 20s, and I’m sure we’ll see him there at some point, but we’re not going to get that every game from anybody. I think we’re going to be very unselfish and have different guys lead us.”
On this night, Ryan Kupferschmid paced the Eagles with 22 points, including 20 through the first three quarters, and added eight rebounds.
Cory Waycaster, in his return to Elkhart Christian after spending the second half of last season at Jimtown, netted 17 points, grabbed six rebounds and made a pair of steals, while Kenny Bearss finished with 14 points and six boards.
The teams were meeting for just the second time ever, and for the first time at ECA, after the Chargers took last season’s opener 69-60 at North Side Gym.
“It was really nice to get out there and play somebody other than our own team,” Watson said. “It was nice to compete against some new guys.”
“I thought for our first game, we had things that carried over well from practice,” Culp said. “The one concern was what kind of defense we would be able to execute, and I was very pleased with how we came out and played intense, played with good positioning, rebounded well and stopped penetration. We’re good (at the defensive end), but we still have a ways to go, because I want these guys to be great.”
The Eagles stayed in front from 4-2 onward and were up 52-31 through three quarters after leading by as many as 24.
“They’ve got some kids who can exploit your mistakes and lack of fundamentals, so credit to them,” Memorial coach Mark Barnhizer said. “I think they’re obviously going to be a good team.”
Cameron Maxwell led the Chargers with 13 points.
Fellow junior Dimitri Giger — Memorial’s lone returning full-time starter — finished with six points, four rebounds and two steals while playing just 17 minutes.
Giger’s stepfather, ex-Charger standout Larry Forrest, died Saturday at age 48, and Giger had already missed four days of practice before that due to a rib cage injury.
“It’s obviously a hard time for Dimitri, and there’s no need to play basketball when you haven’t been practicing basketball,” Barnhizer said of sitting Giger during the final quarter and a half. “It’s kind of hard to just go out there and play when you haven’t been practicing.”
Sophomore Michael O’Toole scored nine points for the Chargers, while junior Chris Kale had six rebounds off the bench.
“The kids need to realize the fundamentals are very important,” Barnhizer said. “We’re not there yet. We will get it going somehow, but it might take a while.”
“I was pleased with our poise on the offensive end,” Culp said. “(Memorial) rattled us last year with their pressure, but we worked hard the last week and half in practice on preparing for that pressure, and I thought we made good decisions and stayed poised tonight.”
ELKHART CHRISTIAN 63, ELKHART MEMORIAL 40
Memorial — Dimitri Giger 3-6 0-0 6, Freddie Rhodes 1-6 0-1 2, Michael O’Toole 4-6 1-2 9, A.J. Gary 1-9 2-2 5, Cameron Maxwell 5-14 1-2 13, Jon Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Miller 0-2 0-0 0, Darrius Baker 0-4 0-0 0, Chris Kale 1-2 0-1 2, Izzy Newsom 0-0 0-0 0, Mikal McGuire 1-1 0-0 3, Rashad Murphy 0-1 0-0 0, Tyler Rose 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-51 (.314) 4-8 (.500) 40.
ECA — Ryan Kupferschmid 5-14 8-9 22, Cory Waycaster 6-13 5-6 17, Jude Allen 2-4 0-0 4, Tanner Watson 1-6 1-3 3, Kenny Bearss 5-6 3-5 14 Steve Weaver 0-0 0-2 0, Drew Overmyer 1-1 0-0 3, Jon Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Springer 0-0 0-0 0, Connor Matthes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-44 (.455) 17-25 (.680) 63.
Scoring By Quarters
Memorial 8 7 16 9 — 40
ECA 13 16 23 11 — 63
3-point goals: Memorial (4-21) — Maxwell 2-7, McGuire 1-1, Gary 1-5; ECA (6-19) — Kupferschmid 4-10, Overmyer 1-1, Bearss 1-2.
Rebounds: Memorial (31) — Kale 6, O’Toole 5; ECA (37) — Kupferschmid 8, Watson 8, Waycaster 6, Bearss 6.
Assists: Memorial (7) — Maxwell 2, Miller 2, Baker 2; ECA (15) — Watson 6, Kupferschmid 3.
Steals: Memorial (6) — Giger 2; ECA (3) — Waycaster 2.
Turnovers: Memorial 10, ECA 11.
Fouls: Memorial 24, ECA 13. Fouled out — Maxwell (1:41, 4th quarter).
Officials: Rick Podell, Lowell Hatfield, Ray Patterson.
Records: Memorial 0-1, ECA 1-0.
Next: Elkhart Central vs. Elkhart Memorial at North Side Gym, Hamilton at Elkhart Christian, both Friday, Dec. 6.
JV: Memorial 47, ECA 19. Top scorers: Memorial — Mikal McGuire 14, Mytchell Sellers 11; ECA — Connor Matthes 8. JV records: Memorial 1-0, ECA 0-1.