The HEAL Center was rocking for Tuesday's City Classic (do we still call it that?) between long time rivals GRU and Paine. The Jaguars would control most of the game after sophomore Keith Crump got things rolling, scoring 10 of GRU's first 14 points before finishing with 19 points and 9 rebounds. After two significant spurts from Paine, another Jaguar sophomore, Keshun Sherrill closed in style, scoring all 25 of his points during the game's last 25 minutes and leading the Jags to an 87-78 win in a hostile environment.
The Jags improved to 6-1 and rebounded from the team's first defeat Sunday at Mount Olive. After a scorching 4-0 (all 4 at home) start to the season, GRU has now been tested. And the guys are passing with flying colors. Two wins on the road at Shaw (Saturday) and Paine sandwiched around a hard fought loss should give Coach Dip Metress a good feel for the way his players deal with adversity. There seems to be a great vibe amongst the players, who are playing hard, playing smart, and playing together. It helps that the team's top seven players can all score and that there is a great mix of young talent and experience and leadership.
Despite the loss Tuesday and the 1-3 start to the season, Paine looks better than ever to me. The Lions have a good balance of perimeter scoring and toughness and athleticism inside. And their rowdy crowd provides one heck of a home court advantage.
Here are my thoughts from Tuesday's game:
I wouldn't have guessed during Tuesday's warm ups, while the Paine student section was causing all sorts of mayhem and the electricity in the gym was supercharged, that "rookie" Keith Crump would be the player to silence the crowd in the early going. Don't get me wrong, Keith can flat out play. But he was coming off a sub par performance in GRU's loss to Mount Olive, and he is the least experienced scorer in the rotation. Playing blocks away from his alma mater, TW Josey, Crump looked like a veteran, patiently picking his spots, stroking 4 mid range jump shots, and finishing a coast to coast lefty drive in the game's first several minutes while leading the Jags to a 21-10 lead.
Paine's Denzel Dillingham responded with a 10 point burst (a four point play, a three pointer, and a three point play) that spanned three possessions and brought the Lions to within 3 points of the Jags at 23-20. The momentum seemed to swing hard in Paine's direction as Paine's guards started to have luck scoring and getting to the foul line driving to the basket.
But GRU weathered the storm nicely enough to enter halftime with a 37-32 advantage. Near the end of the half was the first time Jags' leading scorer Keshun Sherrill started to become aggressive offensively. He is such a complete and intelligent player. During the game's first 15 minutes, Crump was unconscious. Sherrill was wise in being patient and milking Keith's run for all it had to give. He then started to assert himself, but still within the parameters of the Jags offense. He would provide much of the offense from that point forward. Sherrill, Crump, and GRU's stellar trio of seniors (more on them later) helped to maintain a double-digit lead much of the second half.
But Paine would go on a 17-9 run, including two threes (one right as the shot clock expired) and two dunks that ultimately narrowed GRU's advantage to 76-72 with 4:26 remaining in the game.
But Sherrill would close with two exceptional plays. The first was scoring an incredibly difficult one on one drive that started at the top of the key and ended with a double pump finish at the rim to give GRU a 78-72 advantage with 3:29 remaining. The second came after the 5'9" guard carved out rebounding position and grabbed the biggest offensive board of the night with 1:55 remaining. After the Jags had held for one shot, Sherrill got his team another valuable possession. After grabbing the rebound off of a teammate's air ball and with the shot clock expiring, he took and missed a difficult three. But senior D'Angelo Boyce grabbed the long rebound and was fouled. The Jags were not in the bonus. So it was another half minute before Sherrill was fouled and sank two free throws to give GRU an 80-72 lead with 1:30 remaining, effectively icing the game.
Riding high after 4 season opening wins at home, and with virtually everyone shooting and playing lights out, it was obvious one week ago that as the Jags went on a difficult three game road trip, the team's senior experience would need to come into play. Devon Wright-Nelson, Devonte Thomas, and D'Angelo Boyce, all four year contributors, would need to play well for the Jags to be successful. The trio's statistics during the three game road stretch imply they have answered the bell (Thomas: 18 ppg; Wright-Nelson: 12 ppg; Boyce 9 ppg and 4 apg). But the statistics don't tell the whole story. These guys set a great tone. That they are interested only in winning and the success of the entire team is obvious. Thomas made 3 three pointers in the second half Tuesday. Wright-Nelson, as usual, scored in every way, and also made timely baskets during the game's most tense moments, including one after multiple offensive rebounds. And Boyce's floor game was steady, including his reads off the screen and roll that provided freshman Vlad Cobzaru a first half layup and Thomas an open three in the second half.
Crump is doing a little bit of everything
Keith Crump's 10 points in the first several minutes of Tuesday's first half were invaluable. But like earlier games, he contributed in many ways, including a nifty assist to Cobzaru and a gutty putback in the second half. He also kept Paine's Denzel Dillingham in check. By my count, 13 of Dillingham's 21 points came when others were assigned to him.
The Jags face another stiff test at Bowie State Saturday at 2 P.M. before returning to face conference foe Georgia Southwestern Thursday, Dec 18, at 11 A.M. Yes, you read that right!
Paine's next game is at home against Barber Scotia on December 13 at 7 P.M.