If the D.C. Everest boys basketball team is going to successfully defend its Wisconsin Valley Conference title, the Evergreens are going to have to defend a little better on the court than they have in their first two nonconference games of the season.
And the key to that improvement, according to Everest coach Cory Heckel, may actually start at the offensive end where turnovers have plagued the Evergreens.
That was the case in the season opener against Neenah on Friday night and Tuesday's performance against Green Bay Preble was nearly identical as the Evergreens committed 24 turnovers in a 74-65 loss to the Hornets at the Everest Fieldhouse.
"We're giving up 74 points because we are turning over the basketball and that's leading to layups on the other end," said Heckel, whose team was on the short end of a similar 74-63 decision against the Rockets in the opener. "Until we figure that out and start competing and getting tougher, it's not going to get any better."
Everest actually got off to a slightly better start against Preble, taking a 15-12 lead in the first five minutes of the opening quarter thanks in large part to eight points from 6-foot-8 center Jared Gjertson. But turnovers played a large role during an ensuing seven-minute drought in which the Evergreens failed to score from the field as the Hornets rallied to take a 29-17 lead midway through the second quarter.
"We decided we needed to go fullcourt the entire game," Preble coach Rob Darrow said of his team's pressing defensive strategy. "We wanted to make them earn every foot they traveled on the floor."
Eight points from Josh Nielson late in the second quarter allowed Everest to pull within five points, but the Hornets pumped their lead back up to 12 in the final minute of the half.
Preble led by as many as 14 in the third quarter before Everest staged one more comeback with a 9-0 run to pull within five early in the fourth.
But turnovers once again sparked a Preble rally as they quickly pumped the lead back up to double digits .
"Defensively, we've got to get stops," Heckel said. "The same thing happened Friday night against Neenah. We cut the lead to seven and couldn't get a stop and turned the ball over."
The Evergreens did get a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds from Gjertson.
"Quite honestly, we had no answer for the big man," Darrow said. "We needed to play a little zone to get some backside help."
Zach Finnegan added 15 points for Everest, including 11 in the fourth quarter, while Nielson scored all 14 of his points in the middle two quarters.
Cade Berceau led the Hornets with 19 points while Olentda Bryant added 18 and Christian Hernandez 10.
"The bottom line is nothing is going to change until we take care of the basketball," Heckel said. "It's disappointing because we are way better than we are showing."
PREBLE (74): Christian Hernandez 10, Olentda Bryant 18, Joshua Sinclair 6, Cade Berceau 19, Connor Kraft 6, Devonte Pinckney 6, Connor Lemmens 9. FG: 26-52, 50%. FT: 16-28, 57%.
EVEREST (65): Zach Finnegan 15, Stephen Weir 1, Grant VanGrinsven 3, Josh Nielson 14, Jared Gjertson 23, Adam Decker 9. FG: 22-45, 49%. FT: 17-23, 74%.
3-point field goals: Preble 6 (Berceau 3, Lemmens 2, Hernandez); Everest 4 (Finnegan 2, Nielson 2). Records: Preble 1-1; Everest 0-2.