No. 9 Vincennes Trailblazers win defensive battle over Highland (IL) - Athletics

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No. 9 Vincennes Trailblazers win defensive battle over Highland (IL)

VINCENNES, Ind. – In a battle of two teams that could very well face each other again in the National Tournament in Kansas, the No. 9-ranked Vincennes University Trailblazers avenged last year’s three-point loss at Highland by coming away with the low-scoring 69-58 victory.

The first half started off very physical, with both teams struggling to just get into double-digits.

The Trailblazers finally broke free and built an 18-6 advantage mid-way through the period before Highland answered back to close the margin to four points at the break, 27-23.

VU came out of the locker room firing and expanded their lead to double-digits in the early stages of the second half that would end up holding as the two teams battled back-and-forth.

“This was a legit Division-I JuCo basketball game. (Highland) is a team that’s going to win a lot of games, we know what quality they are and their guys were going to come down here jacked up and ready to play,” Hall of Fame head coach Todd Franklin said. “I thought our guys did a really good job defensively in the first 15 minutes. Then the last five we had a little different lineup in, a little foul trouble and we let them get a little confidence and get back in the game.”

“We struggled to score the whole first half,” Franklin added. “We score a little bit better in the second half because we got better ball movement, we swung the ball and when we did we got in rhythm and made some shots and because we had Justin Archer on the floor instead of in foul trouble.”

“The physicality is good for us,” Franklin said. “We’ve played two physical teams with some thick bodies. This first week has been good for us.”

“I think this is a good win for us right now,” Franklin added. “Obviously it’s probably going to be an important win because Highland is going to have a good year and it’s probably good for us because it’s going to help us learn.”

The tough, pressure defense from Vincennes bothered the Cougars all game, as Highland finished the game with a shooting percentage of 34-percent.

VU was led by freshman big-man Justin Archer, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, most coming in the second half.

“Justin’s scoring at a 24-point pace playing in just one half. He scored 16 Wednesday night all in the second half as well just because he picks up a couple early fouls and we have to sit him,” Franklin said. “We have to keep him on the floor longer, because he’s a problem for the other team.”

Sophomore Randy Tucker battled foul trouble all game but found away to score 10 points on just three shots in just over 13 minutes of action.

Sophomore Christian Wells came off the bench to provide a steadying presence for the Blazers, scoring 10 points, grabbing four rebounds and swiping three steals on the night.

“I thought Christian played much better tonight, he still made some decisions that we don’t want him to make and he’s not shooting very well behind the arc, but overall, I thought he had a nice game,” Franklin said. “I thought his intensity was better. His mind was more locked in to where it needed to be and because of that he helped us get a win.”

“None of these guys are going to be where they need to be,” Franklin added. “But for game two, against a quality opponent, grading them that way, I think Christian did some good things. Now, we need him to make that same jump before Wednesday. Each guy is going to have to step up.”

“We are going to have to try to win as we learn and so far we’ve had two games and we’ve won while we’ve been learning. If we continue that I think at some point we’re going to be a really good basketball team and have a good record.”

One place Vincennes has struggled in this young season is free throw shooting. The Blazers were only able to convert nine of 21 shots from the line against Highland and shooting just shy of 57-percent on the year.

The Trailblazers now turn their attention to another strong Region 4 opponent in Triton. VU will host the Trojans Wednesday, Jan. 27 with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. eastern.

“Tomorrow we’re going to come in and shoot free throws,” Franklin said. “Then we’ll have Monday and Tuesday to get ready for Triton.”

“We made a jump from Wednesday in play to today. We’re far from a finished product, but if we hadn’t made that jump we wouldn’t have won and I think the same thing will be true going from today into next Wednesday. If we make enough of a jump, then we have a chance.”

“By the end of the week we should be able to tell everyone who the favorite is in Region 4 because we’re playing the consensus top three, especially the top two in Highland and Triton.”

“Triton looked really good when I watched them on film,” Franklin said. “They’ve been good, Coach Christiansen has done a really good job with them and he will get those guys to play like junkyard dogs in here. They’ll athletic, they’ll be tough and if we come out a little bit soft they will punch us in the mouth.”

“Wednesday will be a game where you have to have a little edge to you,” Franklin added. “Normally we have that we’re still trying to get that right now, we’re building to it. We’re going to have to get that by Wednesday because that’s what Triton will bring to you. It’ll be a quality ‘W’ if we can get it. We got one tonight, we need to get one Wednesday.”

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