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West Brunswick third-year basketball coach Eric Davis saw his team struggle defensively during the first half of season opener against West Columbus Nov. 20 and knew exactly what he had to do.
After full-court pressure failed to slow down the visiting Vikings for the first 16 minutes, Davis reverted back to the Trojans’ bread and butter, an aggressive, half-court man-to-man defense that has been a staple of West Brunswick’s varsity boys’ basketball team since Davis’ arrival.
The Trojans responded by suffocating West Columbus during a dominant third quarter spurt on their way to a convincing 79-66 victory.
West Brunswick held its opponent to six points in the period after allowing 38 before halftime.
“I was frustrated with our defensive effort early,” said Davis, whose team enjoyed a jubilant postgame atmosphere in its own locker room for the first time since a heartbreaking season-ending loss to South Central in the second round of the playoffs. “We are very young and it showed tonight. We just weren’t very good in the first half. Defense is what this program is built on. We have to be more disciplined in what we’re doing. I came in and challenged the guys (at halftime). The third quarter, we were really good...That’s our defense.”
The Trojans responded to Davis’ challenge in a big way.
West led 44-36 at halftime and clung to a 48-40 advantage with 5 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the third. That’s when the Trojans took over. West Columbus, on the other hand, imploded.
The Trojans’ Phillip Gause and Gray Cheers made consecutive baskets to extend the lead to 12. West forced a turnover and Markel Jones, who led West in the first half with 10 points, was fouled on a hard drive to the hoop.
Following a disputed lane violation infraction on Jones’ first attempt, West Columbus head coach Michael Powell got into a heated exchange with the referees. He was whistled for two technical fouls, the second coming just seconds after the first while trying to plead his case.
Consequently, Powell was ejected from the game—two technical fouls automatically result in an ejection or disqualification, per NCHSAA rules. His team was trailing by 13 with just less than four minutes left in the third. Cheers sank all four of the technical free throws, pushing West Brunswick’s lead to 57-40. Jones finished an acrobatic drive to the lane with a layup on the ensuing possession. Gause then connected on two free throws to stake the Trojans to a 21-point advantage.
Sophomore forward Nasir Murray contributed to the third-quarter onslaught as he poured in a 3-pointer from the right wing after Davis’ stingy defense pressured West Columbus into another miscue.
Quentin Ash, a 6-foot-1 senior forward who did not play on last year’s team, capped a 20-2 run while putting an exclamation point on the Trojans’ eight minutes of dominance. Ash received an outlet pass ahead of the West Columbus defenders and finished in style with a thunderous one-handed jam over a retreating Viking. West Brunswick led 68-42 heading into the final eight minutes.
Although the result was all but settled, the Class 1A Vikings did not go down without a resilient effort in the fourth.
Davis began the fourth with a talented but inexperienced corps of players on the court and West Columbus welcomed the sight after being dismantled in the third. The Vikings forced several West Brunswick turnovers, which led to easy baskets for West Columbus and helped trim its deficit to 11 with over a minute left in the contest. The visitors outscored the Trojans 24-11 in the final period, but the late rally was not enough.
Davis, who inserted his starters back into the game after the Vikings opened the fourth with an 11-2 spurt, said it was vital for West Brunswick to develop a deep bench despite a talented nucleus that sports plenty of varsity experience.
“Again, we have a lot of young guys. It was a learning experience for them,” said Davis, whose roster is five seniors, four juniors and three sophomores. “You just can’t simulate live game action. Nothing can replace experience.”
Cheers led all Trojan scorers with 17. The rangy sophomore guard made eight of his 10 free throw attempts. Jones finished with 13 points while dishing out three assists as the Vikings struggled to prevent the explosive senior from penetrating and attacking the basket. Gause scored seven of his eight points in the second half.
Zaire Hankins, whom Davis called the team’s most consistent player during the offseason, added nine points. Murray netted five in his varsity debut and junior point guard O.J. Hill in his first career start scored nine for the Trojans.
Ash shouldered the load on the glass with his 13 boards.
Senior Jawon McNeil produced a solid effort as the 6-foot-4 center scored eight points and snatched five caroms.
Junior Antonio Clarida (five) and sophomore Saadiq Johnson (two) rounded out the scoring for the Trojans.
Vikings’ guard Anthony Davis led all scorers with 18. He was the only West Columbus player to reach double figures. Savon Dawson (eight), Harvey LeSane (nine), Forest Powell (seven) and Johnny McFadden (eight) turned in quality outings, but the Trojans’ offensive output was too much to overcome.
The Trojans did not register 79 points in any games last season. However, the defensive-minded Davis knows his team’s recipe for success isn’t lighting up scoreboards but preventing opponents from doing so.
“We aren’t supposed to score 79. We aren’t worried about that,” he quipped. “We’re worried about giving up 66. That’s too many.”
For some time, it didn’t appear as if amassing 79 points was even a possibility. The opener began ominously for the Trojans as they failed to convert several point-blank looks. West Brunswick started the game without a make in its first six attempts and the Vikings seized momentum early. West Columbus built a 12-6 lead while Davis’ team failed to deny penetration on defense and make shots on offense.
West Brunswick got just the spark it needed when Hankins entered the game midway through the first and scored seven of the next eight points to knot the score 12-12. Jones sandwiched a 3-pointer and a midrange jumper around Cheers’ layup to close the first on a 17-4 run. West Brunswick led 23-16 after the opening frame.
West Columbus guard Marquis York opened the second with a 3-pointer, which cut the Trojans’ lead to four. That was as close as the Vikings would get the rest of the way as West Brunswick built its lead to eight before the break.
Following the halftime buzzer, the Trojans did what they do best—they disrupted West Columbus’ offensive rhythm and trusted the half-court, man-to-man approach that has worked so effectively in the past.
As a result, the Trojans headed into Thanksgiving break happy after christening the 2012-13 campaign with a win. They can thank the second-half defense for this one.
The Trojans will have a week off before returning to action Nov. 29 in Shallotte for a non-conference matchup with North Myrtle Beach, S.C., High School.
Trojans’ JV wins
The West Brunswick junior varsity boys’ basketball team defeated West Columbus 41-20 in non-conference action Tuesday afternoon in Shallotte.
The Trojans were led by Sherm Fulwood, who scored 10 points. Chase Hill added nine and Xavier Gause chipped in six.
“We played very well on opening night,” coach Jason Younts said. “Our defense was very solid at times and we were able to get our transition game going as a result of good defense. We were able to get West Columbus in early foul trouble and ended up shooting 21 free throws.
“I was very pleased considering it was the first game of the season. Our roster is made up of five returning players and eight new players, but a few of those new players really stepped up and played well. We dressed 11 players and eight of them scored, so the attack was pretty balanced.”