WALWORTH — The Big Foot Chiefs lost to the Evansville Blue Devils 64-49 on Thursday night at Big Foot High School. It was the Chiefs’ fourth consecutive loss since senior starters Gus Wedig, Dan Pearce and Nate Freytag were suspended for six games due to a code of conduct violation earlier this month.
“It hurts not having those guys for a lot of reasons, but you’re never going to hear me say that as an excuse,” Chiefs Head Coach Mike Dowden said. “And I think our guys are getting better. I hope that they gel, you know, when those three come back we can gel.”
Wedig, Pearce and Freytag will be eligible to return on Dec. 27, and Big Foot has yet to find a way to win without them.
The Chiefs were down by 14 midway through the second quarter, but were able to cut the deficit to six points by halftime after putting together an 8-point run in the final two minutes of the half.
In the beginning of the third quarter, the Chiefs traded shots with the Blue Devils, but the scoring didn’t last. Big Foot was unable to consistently make shots despite generating some good scoring opportunities and trailed by as much as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
“We were talking as coaches, and I think we moved the ball (well),” Dowden said. “I think we took shots that we were supposed to take, and we passed up shots that we weren’t supposed to take, but on the shots that we did take, heck … I know in the first half we didn’t hit a three, I don’t know if we hit a three all night.”
Big Foot’s Zak Greco hit the Chiefs only 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Greco finished with five points.
Dowden said that the Chiefs’ perimeter shooting was awful — the boys were passing the ball well and the shots were there, but the boys couldn’t find a way to drain them.
“We got good shots because we moved the ball, now we’ve just got to be able to make those shots when we get the chance,” Dowden said.
Chandler Hehr, Nico Tovar and Craig Halma led the Chiefs in scoring with 13, 10 and 9 point respectively.
Hehr was instrumental during the Chiefs’ second-quarter surge just before halftime.
“I think he played his best game tonight,” Dowden said of Hehr. “I jokingly told him, and I said not to take offense to it, but if he doesn’t touch the ball on the perimeter and he just cuts back doors and gets layups and runs, I mean, he’s pretty good ... That’s a big night for him, I hope to see that a lot out of him.”
Hehr came off the bench with energy and got things moving for the Chiefs offensively and scored 3 points off an and-one. Hehr made a layup and was fouled – the basket counted and he made the free throw. He made aggressive cuts to the basket and broke through Evansville’s defense, which had a tight seal on the paint and kept the Chiefs at the top of the key for most of the night.
Hehr’s burst in the second quarter summed up the Chiefs performance all night — they played well in short streaks but lost energy for long stretches of time that Evansville used to build its lead.
As the game progressed, the Chiefs’ scoring bursts became less frequent, and the long stretches of flat play became longer.
“If you look back, the deficit started to grow the start of the fourth quarter against Williams Bay, the deficit started to grow the end of the third quarter against Clinton, the deficit started to grow the end of the third quarter tonight,” Dowden said. “We haven’t quite figured out how to play as hard as we need to play for 32 minutes.
“We’d go on stretches where we’d play for each other and we’d move the ball and we’d fly around and we don’t care who scores. And then we’d go on stretches where we’d hold the ball and play hesitant and (take) bad shots, and they got some easy buckets. I always say, if you miss a bad shot on one end, it always seems to (cause) an and-one on the other end. You know, they get a layup or they hit a wide open three. And the last few games, that’s what’s been happening in that stretch.”
Figuring out how to keep the boys fresh without three starters has been a challenge, Dowden said.
There are fewer players to sub-in and fewer legs to carry the team in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got some guys who play really well when they’re fresh and they’re mentally fresh,” Dowden said. “We try to sub before they get to that unstable point, and sometimes we don’t.”
Dowden said that he’s trying to find the right point to substitute players — too early and the team loses its flow, too late and it loses its spark — and with the younger, more inexperienced players filling in for his three suspended seniors, finding that balance has been an adjustment.
But despite the losses, Dowden said the suspension could be a blessing in disguise later on in the season.
“I think that it might be a blessing that (the bench players) got that opportunity to play,” Dowden said.
“It might help build a better team there, when they come back.”
The Chiefs will play Beloit Turner at Big Foot High School on Friday.
Beloit Turner is 4-2 and leads the Rock Valley — South conference.
Turner averages 50.5 points per game and allows, on average, 43.3.
Through five games, Chiefs have scored an average of 47.2 points per game and allowed 51.6, but since losing Wedig, Pearce and Freytag have put up only 44.3 points per game and allowed 57.8.
The game starts at 7:15 p.m.