COMMERCE TWP. — With great success usually comes significant graduation losses. That's just the cyclical nature of high school athletics.
With just one returning starter and a couple of role players from last season's KLAA Central division title-winning team, Walled Lake Central has had to fill in plenty of gaps to begin this season, but the early results keep coming up positively.
With a 65-34 victory over visiting Farmington Hills Harrison on Friday, the Vikings extended their record to a perfect 5-0 this season, all the while experimenting with new player rotations and working varsity newcomers into expanding roles.
Friday's game was won on the offensive glass, as Central's team as a whole crashed the boards relentlessly to rebound its own missed shots, which in turn produced a steady flow of second-chance points.
"We went with a little bit bigger lineup in this game because they have such a big center," Vikings coach Chuck Spolsky said, referring to Harrison's John Rexroth, who stands 6-foot-9. "He just takes up space and he can out-rebound teams, so I thought we had to go pretty big to match up.
"That's another dimension of our team being deep. I think we've got some bigs, though they're young. We wanted to get them some experience and playing time."
Just a sophomore, Vikings center Adetokunbo Ogundeji played a key role in corralling offensive rebounds and neutralizing Rexroth in the paint. Ogundeji finished with nine points and 10 rebounds, while helping to hold Rexroth to an uncharacteristic three points.
The first quarter was competitive, ending with Central clinging to a slim, one-point lead. But the Vikings turned on their offensive jets to open the second quarter, beginning with a 12-3 scoring run and culminating with a 24-point output to take a 24-18 lead into halftime.
"This was (game two) of a back-to-back. We played last night. So I was a little concerned and a little worried. We didn't know much about Harrison," Spolsky said. "We just knew we had to come out and find some matchups that we liked."
Struggling to overcome all of the offensive rebounds it allowed, Harrison was unable to muster much of a comeback in the second half. The Hawks had a 9-0 scoring run midway through the third quarter, cutting their deficit down to 12 points. But Central's lead ballooned right back up as the half progressed.
The Vikings received balanced scoring with three players in double figures, led by junior Nate Collins, who turned in 15 points, including three triples.
"He's really developed his game and has worked to be able to take people off of the dribble now," Spolsky said of Collins, who was a contributor off the bench a year ago. "He knows people are going to come after him hard, so he knows he'll have to shot-fake and attack the basket and he's been good on that."
Central's Justin Nafso chipped in with 10 points and five assists, while teammate Walter Kelser converted 9-of-13 attempts from the free-throw line and totaled 13 points.
Harrison was led offensively by Calvin Butler's 11 points.
Despite an unblemished 5-0 record, Spolsky said he's still looking for more consistency from his Central team in the remaining games before divisional play begins next month.
"I think we've played well at times, but I don't think we've played (a full) 32 minutes of what we want to get to," he explained. "As coaches, we're still learning about our young guys and what they do well so we can put them in the positions to be successful. We've had our good moments, but also other moments where we've not looked so good."
Central will return to action after the holidays on Jan. 3 against Livonia Churchill.
WALLED LAKE CENTRAL 65, FARMINGTON HILLS HARRISON 34
HARRISON — Daniel Williams 1-2 1; Trevon Dixon 0-2 0; K.J. Justin 3 6; Calvin Butler 2 (1) 4-8 11; Justin Whitted 2 2-5 6; Donte Eubanks 2-2 2; David Vinsky 1 (1) 5; John Rexroth 1 1-2 3; Totals: 9 (2) 10-21 34
CENTRAL — Tim Ford 1 2; Justin Nafso 4 2-4 10; Nate Collins 3 (3) 15; Walter Kelser 2 9-13; Westly Whitner 1 2; Colin Gottschalk 2 2-3 6; Phillip Nelson 1 2; Calvin Dado 2 4; Malik Abiola 1 2; Adetokunbo Ogundeji 3 3-10 9; Totals: 20 (3) 16-30 65
SCORE BY QUARTER
H 9 9 10 6 — 34
C 10 24 16 15 — 65
RECORDS — Central 5-0
JV — Central 39, Harrison 33