On an emotional evening for the Vandalia area community in a packed gym, the Van-Far boys basketball team fed off the crowd’s energy to beat rival Communty R-VI, 89-55.
Before the game ever started though, Van-Far head coach Pat Connaway was touched to see a large crowd wearing “Shannon Strong” T-Shirts in support of Shannon Culwell, Jr.’s fight against cancer. The crowd included all of the Community R-VI basketball players and others in their district also wearing shirts for the event.
Culwell, Jr.’s son Treyson plays for the Indians. There was also a heaviness of heart felt in the gym that night as the Culwells, along with the community, were mourning the passing of Felicity Goodpasture-Culwell earlier in the week.
“Tonight was a very emotional night for everyone,” Connaway said. “The community really rallied together for a great cause and a great family. The entire Community R-VI school district, staff, coaches, players, and fans all need to be commended. It was awesome to see the huge crowd and all the ‘Shannon Strong’ shirts being worn.”
With so many emotions, Connaway talked to his players about the importance of channeling their emotions to help them get a needed spark early in the game.
He didn’t want his Indians coming out too fast and making silly mistakes.
The Indians responded with a 24-10 first-quarter lead. Trey Miller and Lathyn McMorris combined to score 19 of the team’s 24 points in that frame.
McMorris’ evening was just beginning.
He added 13 more points in the second quarter as he had five 3-pointers in the first half alone.
Community R-VI rallied by scoring 22 of their 23 second-quarter points in the final 4:30 of the half.
Bobby Jett made two big 3-pointers and scored nine points. Cordell Hollensteiner also had nine points.
Brayden Christian added eight points in the paint in the second to help the Indians take a 50-33 halftime edge.
With the goal of coming out of halftime still on a roll, Connaway’s group responded with a 27-11 third quarter to give them a 33-point lead heading into the fourth.
McMorris hit five 3-pointers in the third and entered the last quarter with 10, which was just one away from tying a school record.
After the scorer’s table informed Connaway of McMorris’ chase of history, he was put back in the game.
With 1:29 left, McMorris hit his 11th 3-pointer to tie a 25-year-old school record. Connaway said he hated to put him back in with the game with a 30-point lead but he knew McMorris had a chance to do something special.
He was taken out of the game after scoring 42 points.
“Had I known Lathyn had 42 points and was only three points from Mike Smith’s record of 45 points in a game, we would have left Lathyn in to see if he could have broken that record,” Connaway noted.
The Indians won the game by 34 points.
“I love the way these boys rally around each other and are there for one another,” Connaway said. “…It was a great way to cap off a really emotional week for our entire community and I am so proud of the way they conducted themselves.”
McMorris led the Indians with 42 points, five rebounds, and five assists as the team made 13-of-32, 3-point attempts. They also shot 53.2% from the field.
Christian had 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists; Miller added 10 points and seven rebounds; Treyson Culwell had eight points; Dillion Minor added five points; Josh Hodde had five points, eight assists, and seven rebounds; and Verlyn Johnson added four points.
Hodde currently has 24 assists and just three turnovers this season.
“He is playing at a really high level and is the main reason we are 3-0 so far,” Connaway said.
The Trojans were led by Hollensteiner’s 18 points.
Both Blaze Escamilla and Jett had nine points; both Jaryn Kuda and Evan Hartsock added six points; Eric Hombs scored five points; and Kyle Oligschlaeger scored two points.
The Trojans made 10 3-pointers in the loss.
“It was a tough night for us,” said Community R-VI head coach Matt Thomas.
“It was a very emotional night for them with everything going on. They just couldn’t do anything wrong.”