Van Buren boys rout New London at homeGarrett Saunders leads charge with 27 points
KEOSAUQUA - Van Buren High School basketball player Garrett Saunders isn’t sure if the Warriors are a different team at home.
After taking a tough road loss last Friday, 10th-ranked (Class 1A) Van Buren made it clear it wasn’t going to be denied on its home floor.
Saunders scored a game-high 27 points for the normally balanced Warriors, who rolled past Central Lee 70-35 in a SEI Superconference South Division game Tuesday.
Van Buren scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points and was never threatened. Saunders was dominant at the start of each half, scoring 20 of his points in the first and third quarters.
“It was huge for us to get our rhythm again, get back to playing our pace,” the junior guard said. “I don’t think it really matters where we play, but we have to protect our home court.”
Van Buren (6-1, 6-1) built a 31-point halftime lead as the Hawks (2-4, 2-4) couldn’t buy a basket. Coupled with turnovers and Van Buren’s up-tempo game, the contest got out of hand quickly.
“We came out with a lot of energy, and I was really happy to see that from these kids,” Van Buren coach Fred Parsons said. “I was kind of worried about Central Lee because they have good athletes who are quick.”
Tyler Bryant was a one-man crew for Central Lee, scoring all 10 of its points in the opening quarter and 13 of their 15 in the first half. He finished with a team-high 19 points, and was really the only player who had any consistent success offensively. Central Lee made as many free throws (11) as field goals.
“We came out and wanted to press them. They’re pretty young, but they have a lot of talent,” Saunders said.
It wasn’t all perfect for the Warriors. They were sluggish to start the second half as Central Lee’s Luis Galle buried a quick three, followed by a pair of Van Buren turnovers.
However, Saunders helped the Warriors reclaim momentum as he hit a tough 3-pointer and was fouled, converting the four-point play. He triggered a 9-0 run to push the lead to 37, the largest of the night.
“He shot extremely well tonight, and he wasn’t just rimming them in. They were middle of the hole,” Parsons said. “The four-point play was big.”
The Warriors came into the game with four players averaging double figures in scoring. It appeared that would be the case again, but foul trouble plagued big men Thomas Fitzsimmons and Tanner Smith, as both sat on the bench for periods of time. Saunders took the game over when others struggled.
“We’re such an athletic team,” Saunders said. “Most times, no one is going to score the way I did, but I hit the open shots tonight.”
Central Lee almost played Van Buren to a draw in the second half, mainly by staying aggressive at both ends of the floor. Saunders said the Warriors’ foul trouble forced them out of the press.
“We haven’t really adjusted well to how the games have been called,” he said of the new rules relating to hand-checks and other physical contact. “We have a lot of juniors and seniors and it’s taken a while to adjust while still playing our game.”
“I think the kids knew how important the game was,” Parsons said. “They were focused and intense.”
Saunders said it was a key win coming off a disappointing loss to Holy Trinity.”We didn’t do a lot over break, and I think that hurt us,” he said. “But we got it turned back around tonight.”
Will Mertens added 10 points for the Warriors, who host Fairfield Maharishi Friday.