VANDALIA — Shelbyville coach Bob Herdes had felt this coming for a while now.
The Rams wiped away errors with great 10-12 minute stretches of basketball leading up to the Vandalia Holiday Tournament, and they suffered just one loss in eight games.
On Monday, against a Patoka team returning plenty of talent from a super-sectional team, that slow start overshadowed a strong finish. Shelbyville sliced what was an 18-point deficit late in the third quarter to four, but Patoka emerged with a 53-47 win.
"Well, we played bad. For the first half and the first half of the second half, we just stunk it up," Herdes said. "We didn't move our feet on defense, we weren't running our offense.
"We let them take it to us, didn't take it to them. We just didn't have any energy. We got in the habit of thinking we could play 9 or 10 minutes like we did at the end where we really get after it."
Patoka gave Shelbyville (7-2) plenty of opportunities. There were the 21 turnovers, the reliance of Patoka's two stars — Jered Cain (27 points) and Garrett Belcher (14 points) — and poor shooting from outside.
But Shelbyville countered with its own struggles at the line (7-of-15 shooting) and rough outside shooting (4-of-28). Patoka's defensive plan worked about as well as it could for 22 minutes.
"We knew that (Turner) Pullen kid was a good post. We took him out of the game early with foul trouble," Patoka coach Joey Eddy said. "Our big kid, he's a load down there — 280, 6-4.
"They like to push the ball and we really took (Hunter) Plummer out from pushing the ball on the fast break to get their break going."
The main focus was reserved for Malcolm Miller, Shelbyville's sophomore point guard. Miller grinded for his 18 points by grabbing his own misses and making the comebackers, turning steals into fast breaks and weaving through Patoka defenders in the paint.
His 12 rebounds went a long way in keeping Shelbyville close at the end.
"That Miller kid is as good as it gets in this area, especially at a 1A/2A school," Eddy said. "I thought we did a good job of making him work hard on the initial scoring, but he got a lot off second chances."
Pullen scored 12 and Plummer added 9.
On paper, the Rams had been dominant in the early going. Besides the loss to LSA, Shelbyville had won all seven games by at least nine points. Five had been by 15.
But despite the lopsided wins, Herdes saw the same team on Monday that been there for a while now.
"No, the last two or three games we've been playing about a half a game," he said. "It's been kind of a thing that's been going on. And I've got to take some blame for that. I'm not getting them ready to go in those situations."
Shelbyville has an early opportunity to right the ship, opening with Flora at 10 a.m. today before finishing with Father McGivney, a school in its first year with a full varsity schedule.
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With two wins there, the Rams would still have a shot to play in the championship game.
Still, Shelbyville was able to show it's less an A game could compete with a team that many have penciled in as a state contender in 1A. Now it's a matter of piecing all four quarters together.
"We haven't played a team as good as this," Herdes said. "They're a good basketball team, but if we come out with any energy at all in the first half, we can win this game."
If there was a team that could make an excuse for a slow start the day after Christmas, Pana might be at the top of the list.
The Panthers had only played four games heading into the opener against Vandalia, the last of which was two weeks ago.
Naturally, Pana started the tournament at 11:30 a.m.
But if there was rust, it didn't last long after Pana beat Vandalia 52-48. Kyle Lynch led with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
"After the holidays it's tough — especially in the morning — but those guys came out with great intensity," Pana coach Adam Metzger said. "Really focused, defensive effort."
Pana followed that up with a 71-24 win against Ramsey later in the day.
Lynch, along with Adam Miller, who had 10 points in the Vandalia game, are getting past some injuries.
So while Pana's not only getting a chance to build chemistry with several games in a few days, it's also coming with a fuller lineup.
"We're working on getting guys back to full strength," Metzger said. "It's been great to finally get everybody back."
St. Anthony dominates
It's been easy-going for Effingham St. Anthony so far, as long as you consider a 120-point win margin for two games easy-going.
The Bulldogs beat Ramsey 98-12 in the first game of the day where 10 different players scored (Drew Gibson led with 22). Then in the last game of the day, St. Anthony beat Vandalia 74-40. Nine players scored in that game and Gibson led again with 19 points.
St. Anthony plays Pana at 5 p.m. today.