Last Updated: Mar 31st, 2014 - 14:20:42

Hopewell's Offense Misfires Against George Wythe
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 3, 2013, 22:55

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL The Blue Devils jogged onto Bill Littlepage court with confidence after their demolition of Patrick Henry last week in their final tune-up before the regular season. They sensed they had fixed their defensive problems and were ready to start their season on a high-note.

On the other side of the court stood a George Wythe team which had won just eight games last season. Yet, in the opening round of the Bill Littlepage tip-off tournament, it was not the home team which grew more confident as the game wore on.

Instead, it was the Bulldogs, fueled on by a clean-slate and a small-pocket of fans cheering each defensive stop and basket made.

Tied at 21-21 with 2:45 remaining in the half, George Wythe orchestrated a 12-2 run to take a 33-23 lead to the break and never looked back in a physical, 70-54 victory.

"I think we had a tough time adjusting to the difference in athleticism," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the loss. "We turned the ball over and had keys stay in foul trouble. And I just don't think we weren't physical enough."

St. John has a point.

The Bulldogs (1-0) seemed to be the physically superior team all night long, grabbing the loose balls, fighting off Hopewell players for rebounds and driving through the lane to create contact to draw fouls.

In fact, George Wythe's ability to drive through the lane, draw contact and finish allowed them the opportunity to have four and-one chances. It all started with the Bulldogs' Malik White who was able to shake his man at all times whether Hopewell (0-1) was in man-to-man or zone.

While the main goal of the Bulldogs was to create easy chances inside, they also forced Hopewell into taking numerous fouls, pitting Darrell Taylor and Daniel Saunders on the bench for long periods of time. Slow rotations and not communicating the differing assignments added to the frustration for the Blue Devils.

"Being quick on rotations has nothing to do with their athleticism, it's just you being where you are supposed to be and we didn't get there," St. John said. "I didn't think we talked well on defense which is something we harped on as well."

But the bad communication on defense also led to dismal play on offense for much of the 32 minutes of game-action.

The Bulldogs' 2-3 zone forced Hopewell out of their game-plan of making sure to move the ball around offensively to create high-percentage scoring looks. Instead, the Blue Devils seemed content with passing the ball around the perimeter, leading to ill-advised shots and a total of 18 turnovers.

It also did not help matters to have Saunders on the bench because of foul trouble.

The junior guard is the lone go-to scoring option for the Blue Devils and without him on the court, the offense needs quick, compact passing to create good scoring chances. In fact, it was Saunders who led Hopewell in scoring with 17 points on the night with his ability to hit the spot-up jump-shot against the tight zone defense played by the Bulldogs.

However, St. John said the scoring woes came not just from being without a shooter who draws defenders in, but because of bad shot-selection.

"Our shot-selection was awful," St. John said bluntly. "You mentioned we were tied but we didn't have any business being in that game to begin with as we just chucked the ball up there. The first thing we put on the board tonight for our game-plan was to have a good selection."

Yet, even when Hopewell did create good chances off of steals or quick passing, the ball would not bounce their way. Tabyus Taylor routinely penetrated the lane while attempting acrobatic lay-up attempts but few fell on a 10-point night.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

The same could be said for Malik Monds who created space underneath, but could not finish. With the exception of Saunders, only Isaiah Fernandez had much success offensively, yet the point guard was reluctant to shoot.

However, when he did shoot, he hit his shots en route to a 7-point, four-assist, two-steal night. But the offensive woes on top of an inability to contain the paint on the defensive side of the ball sealed Hopewell's fate.

Instead of rallying together to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit, Hopewell allowed the Bulldogs to extend the lead with little resistance, highlighting a mentality which St. John wants to be fixed immediately.

"Some nights it just feels like every bounce is against you, we had a ton of lay-ups missed and rebounds going through our hands," St. John said. "But to me, more important than that, is do you have the character to fight through it ... tonight, we pointed a lot of fingers. That's something we need to work on before anything else.

With less than 24 hours separating their loss to George Wythe and their consolation round date with Highland Springs, Hopewell aims to have a successful cramming session lead to their first victory.

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