By Nicole Minier
CHURUBUSCO — After losing the first six games of the season, Churubusco’s boys basketball team won back-to-back games Friday and Saturday night, first over Prairie Heights, then Bishop Luers.
The Eagles’ strong performance may have come as a surprise to their opponents, but it was no surprise for the Eagles or head coach Chris Paul, who said the game would change after Dec. 15 — when the team would bring on two older, more experienced players in Brayton Bonar and Dalston Duff, a junior and senior, respectively.
“It’s starting to happen,” said Paul. “We’re not where we’re going to be, but we’re a whole lot better than where we were a month ago.”
With eight games under their belts, the starting freshmen and sophomore are more experienced and composed, in addition to the older, more physical players under the basket.
“We have size and strength and a deeper bench now,” Paul said.
After having two one-point losses earlier this season, the Eagles beat Prairie Heights by one point, 53-52, on Friday, then beat Bishop Luers the next day, 74-67.
“It proves to the guys that their hard work pays off,” Paul said.
Friday’s win gave the Eagles confidence that they could win again. Saturday, when they saw their lead shrink, they pushed forward and held on for the win.
Against Prairie Heights, Churubusco came back from a 23-13 deficit in the first quarter, outscoring the Panthers 14-6 in the second quarter to only trail 29-27 at halftime.
The Eagles took the lead going into the fourth quarter, 41-35, and held on for the one-point win.
Jackson Paul led the team with 18 points, followed by Zane Burke with 12 and Bonar with 10. Burke led the team in rebounds with six and assists with three and Bonar tallied two blocks.
For the first time this season, the Eagles started a game with the lead, with Bonar scoring back-to-back buckets in the opening plays, which led to as much as a 20-12 advantage in the first quarter, Gage Kelly fired up the team both offensively and defensively stealing the ball in the back court and scoring, going two-for-two from the free-throw line, then scoring again.
Jackson Paul and Burke also scored 3-pointers in the quarter.
The 20-14 lead was extended in the opening minutes of the second quarter, as the Eagles ran off seven unanswered points to lead by 13.
Luers scored four points in the last 30 seconds of the half, making the score 40-32 when the teams went to the locker room.
The third quarter started with give-and-take from both teams, but Luers eventually pulled the momentum away from the Eagles, scoring six unanswered points.
That’s when coach Paul called on senior Garrett Horn, who is still recovering from an leg injury.
“He’s not playing a ton of minutes, he’s not himself yet — but I told him I needed a spark,” Paul said.
Horn gave the Eagles the spark they needed, drawing a foul and knocking down both of his free throws with two seconds left in the quarter.
“For him to go in, get fouled, and make two free throws to calm things down was huge,” Paul said.
The Eagles led by as much as 13 in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with the 74-67 score.
Three players scored in double digits for Churubusco: Bonar with 18 points, Burke with 15 and Paul with 12 points. Other scorers were Luke McClure (nine), Kelly (eight), Duff (seven), Tom Richards (three) and Horn (two).
In total, the team recorded 18 assists, which Paul says is a good sign.
“When we see eight different people score and 18 assists, that says we’re moving the ball, sharing it and playing as a team,” Paul said. “That’s what you want.”
The Eagles dropped their Dec. 12 game at East Noble, 74-48. The Eagles had three players score 13 points — Burke, Paul and Bonar.