Monday, January 5, 2015

Saturday Night with region AAAAA

Cross Creek made 13 of 17 free throws in Saturday's road win
Last night's "big old post" described what I saw during the first night of the new year's region AAA schedule, from South Augusta to Sandersville.  Tonight's takes you through two of Saturday's three region AAAAA games.  The AAAAA teams entered region play without having had the type of success in 2014 managed by their smaller school counterparts.  But in some sense their records all stood at 0-0 heading into 2015.  Cross Creek and Lakeside began the "regular season" (as region favorite ARC's head coach Steve Nobles calls it) well with victories on the road at Grovetown and Greenbrier, respectively.

Cross Creek 66, Grovetown 64

There are many ways to win.  A particularly surefire method is to make your opponent shoot from far away from the basket and make sure most of your looks are close to the hoop.  Add care for possessions and making free throws and you'll usually be victorious.  These are the factors that allowed Cross Creek to overcome a first half Grovetown spurt, and another in the closing minute of the game.

Grovetown started fast, relying mostly on three point shots for its offense.  Senior Solomon Guase made two long ones in the first quarter and fellow senior Logan Morris went on a 12 point scoring run in the second quarter to give the Warriors a 28-22 advantage.  But Cross Creek consistently attacked the basket and found success scoring in the paint and at the foul line.  The Warriors took a 34-32 lead into halftime, but my sense was Cross Creek's rhythm was better and more sustainable.

The first 15 minutes of the second half belonged to Cross Creek as Shandon Coleman and Mikell Berry made shots and created opportunities off the dribble.  And sophomore Artis Chapman did a little bit of everything, making a jump shot, finishing a drive with his left hand, and sinking all nine of his free throws during the game.

With the home crowd firmly behind its Warriors, Morris and Gause helped ignite a furious comeback that cut a 9 point deficit to 2 with 16 seconds remaining.  But Chapman confidently called for the ball, took the foul, and sank two free throws to secure the win and the strong beginning to Cross Creek's region schedule.

Berry (17), Chapman (15), and Coleman (14) led Cross Creek in scoring, while Gause (19 points on 6 three pointers) and Morris (17) paced Grovetown.  Cross Creek (3-11, 1-0) hosts Greenbrier (4-10, 0-1) Tuesday.  Grovetown (7-4, 0-1) visits Richmond Academy (7-8, 1-0) the same evening.

Lakeside 53, Greenbrier 50

Panthers head coach Jody Hilley has to be pleased with Saturday's result, an overtime win over a region rival capped by an unlikely banked three pointer with four seconds remaining in overtime.  But he may be more pleased with the process his players used to put Lakeside in position to win in the first place.  Hilley recently told me in an interview he believes the Panthers are better than their overall record indicated.  I agreed then and now.  The good news for Hilley is the only record that matters now is the 1-0 start to region play.

What impressed me during Lakeside's near road win at Harlem one month ago continued to impress me in Saturday's contest.  The inside-outside combination of seniors Jake Gilbert and BJ Raymond sets a deliberate tone and the Panthers' patience and eagerness to find opportunities for Gilbert benefits everyone.  The 6'9" center doesn't finish everything around the basket.  But he finishes his fair share and he puts pressure on the defense.  He also protects the rim better than any center I've seen this season, using good fundamentals to make guards shoot difficult shots.

One Greenbrier guard that was successful making such tough shots over Gilbert Saturday was junior Justen Hartfield, who scored 28 points in defeat.  Hartfield was relentless in getting into the paint and finishing with his strong hand (his left).  He also made jump shots, made some good reads in the pick and roll, and generally kept Greenbrier close enough to force overtime and to be four seconds away from securing a win.

But let's get back to Lakeside, specifically the "outside" part of the inside-outside attack noted above. Sophomore Kre'sean Hall has a knack for scoring.  As he did against Harlem, he made deep shots, scored in the mid range off the dribble, and finished at the rim.  And the other wing is ably manned by senior Luke Harmon, who also patiently finds ways to get to the basket.

But the "AugBball game ball" goes to point guard BJ Raymond.  Last night I defined what we old schoolers call "competitiveness" and explained the unique competitive style of another local player.  And last month I highlighted BJ's knack for saving his team possessions (during the game in Harlem) and causing multiple four point swings.  Well, Saturday he did the same thing, only once it was during the most important moment of the game... and it was actually a five point swing!

Trailing by 1 in the closing seconds of overtime, Lakeside's Hall mishandled the ball near half court.  As Raymond tried to retrieve it in the back court, a Greenbrier player "laid out" for the ball, knocking it loose and knocking Raymond over.  But BJ sprang to his feet and beat the rest of the Wolfpack to the ball, pushed in down court, attacked the basket, drew defenders, and found Za Banks for a go ahead three pointer off the glass with 4 seconds remaining!

Raymond's contributions were not limited to running down loose balls and setting up Gilbert for success.  He also scored from deep and going to the basket.  I like that he is equally good going right and left.  And because he has a low center of gravity, he blows by defenders who crowd him.

The Panthers offense was led by Hall (16), Raymond (11), and Banks (10).  Hartfield's 28 points paced the Wolfpack.  Lakeside (3-8, 1-0) visits Evans (2-12, 0-1) Tuesday.  Greenbrier (4-10, 0-1) will travel to Cross Creek (3-11, 1-0).

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