Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy driving across the Illinois state line — when the weather isn’t as ridiculous as it was Tuesday — to cover the Marshall High School boys basketball team.
Last Friday night, I witnessed coach Tom Brannan’s Lions throttle Red Hill 91-44 in their final game before they invade Terre Haute South’s gym this weekend for the annual Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic.
Yes, the 8-0 Lions are fun to watch.
But keeping stats for their fast-paced offense and defense can be challenging.
They’re the anti-Bloomfield, so to speak.
Marshall is the only Valley high school team that consistently causes me to struggle to follow all the made shots, missed shots, steals, rebounds, turnovers, etc., for the Lions and their opponents.
Then there’s that blond brother combination of Lucas and Logan Eitel, who are finally seniors. Each is 6 feet, 4 inches tall with a thin build, although Lucas thinks he tips the scale at 180 pounds compared to Logan’s weight of 185.
Lucas even said that opposing players checking into games occasionally go to the wrong Eitel for a defensive assignment until they eventually realize their error.
Considering I cover only two or three Marshall games a year, I still can’t tell the twins apart from a distance. So almost every time Logan made a field goal Friday, I started to mark an “X” next to Lucas’ name in my notebook until I realized, “Oops, that was No. 10. That was Logan.”
And when Lucas (No. 23) sank a 3-pointer, I often came close to crediting Logan for it. At the same time, I had to remain alert and monitor the post-shot action to make sure I didn’t miss an Eitel or junior standout Taylor Duncan stealing the ball and coverting a layup seconds later.
“I wouldn’t call them identical,” Brannan said of the twins. “But they do look a lot alike. You could probably fool a lot of people with some of the tricks you could pull.”
Having known the Eitels since they were youngsters, Brannan said they are different in some ways, but not many.
On the court, they’re pretty similar. Lucas is averaging about 19 points per game while also serving as the team’s primary ball-handler. Logan, who also handles the ball adeptly, averages about 16 ppg.
“I cannot say one is better than the other,” Brannan assessed. “Each has his own personality, but they’re both great kids and great students and they both love and respect the game. They’re just smart basketball players.”
Against Red Hill, the Lions exploded for 28 points in the first quarter and 53 points in the first half, appearing well on their way to topping the century mark, until Brannan started substituting freely in the third quarter.
Duncan (18 points), Logan Eitel (17) and Lucas Eitel (14) could have reached 30 points apiece if they weren’t so unselfish. On the defensive side, Lucas and Duncan had four steals each and Logan had three of the team’s 16 for the night.
“They worked hard over the summer,” Brannan said of his players. “I see extra motivation defensively. They’re really getting down and guarding people, playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders.”
Brannan and the Eitels — who are being looked at by Indiana State and Eastern Illinois for basketball — also acknowledged that they relied too much on the 3-point shot last season when the Lions lost to Effingham St. Anthony 55-54 in the championship game of the Class 2A Robinson Regional. That’s the main reason why they’re determined to be more balanced this season.
“I think we’re a different team this year,” Brannan said without hesitation.
“We knew we had to get better,” Lucas Eitel mentioned. “This year, we’re taking the ball to the hole and drawing more fouls… Also, we know that ultimately defense wins games and wins championships, so we’ve been bearing down on defense.”
“This year, we’ve definitely focused more on getting in the paint,” Logan Eitel added. “If you have a bad shooting night, you have to do other things well. Against Effingham St. Anthony [last season], we didn’t do that.”
Looking ahead, the Lions expect a stiff challenge from Owen Valley when they meet at 7 p.m. EST Friday in the first round of the Wabash Valley Classic.
Brannan and the Eitels hope that a strong effort Friday can help propel them into an eventual rematch with defending Classic champion and currently undefeated Terre Haute South, although Rockville — Marshall’s possible second-round opponent Saturday and also undefeated — might have something to say about that.
“Our guys believe we can play with them,” Brannan said of the Braves. “We respect them … but we want to see where we rate.”
“Obviously, we’re seniors, so we don’t want to settle for anything less [than the tournament championship],” Logan Eitel emphasized. “We know we’re capable of beating all the teams in it. We just have to go out and execute.”
Wait, could it have been Lucas Eitel who made that comment instead of Logan?
Hmmm, maybe I should go back and check my notes.
See ya this weekend.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.