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

Defensive Lapses Costs Hopewell Versus Springers
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 4, 2013, 21:44

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL Less than 24 hours after being handed their first loss of the season, the Blue Devils entered Bill Littlepage court on a mission to grab their first win of the season and salvage a split in the two-day Bill Littlepage Tip-off Tournament.

However, as the calendar flipped to a new day, the result remained the same for a Hopewell squad still adjusting to a new system. For the first 3:30 of game-action, the Blue Devils looked as if they had solved their deficiencies from one day prior.

Instead of passing the ball along the perimeter and settling for bad shots, Hopewell remained patient, utilizing precious time off the game-clock before finding the open man for an easy basket as Malik Monds opened the scoring for the Blue Devils with a mid-range jumper.

Then, Tabyus Taylor penetrated off the left side through the Highland Springs' defense, drew a foul and made the two subsequent free throws. After a Springers' basket, Hopewell struck again off a creative play which started at the top of the key with a cross-over dribble-drive from Isaiah Fernandez. Fernandez got into the lane and dished off to a cutting Daniel Saunders for the basket to take a 6-4 lead.

But Highland Springs would then takeover.

The Springers made a defensive adjustment and found holes in the Blue Devils' defensive schemes, orchestrating a 16-3 run, spanning 6:27 of time en route to a dominating 64-52 victory.

"We had a couple of lapses and again, in an impatient world, you ask these kids to be patient and trust the system," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the loss. "You can see improvements, but we aren't there yet. They're preseason No. 10 in 5A for a reason. They're going to expose things on you."

And Highland Springs (1-1) did just that after struggling by their standards in the opening minutes.

But after going through a couple of possessions against the Blue Devils' 2-3 zone defense, the Springers made a small, yet critical adjustment. Instead of trying to deliberately work an inside-out game against the zone, Highland Springs used quick lateral passes to stretch the Hopewell (0-2) defense.

Their adjustment worked to perfection, leaving holes down the middle of the lane and beyond the arc for what is essentially a warm-up jumper. St. John could not help but discuss the Springers' ability to not only recognize the need for an adjustment, but to execute it.

"The first two possessions, we looked sound," St. John said of his defense. "They made a quick adjustment, made a couple of easy ones. We missed a couple of easy ones and then they're out on a run. When you are playing a team like that from behind, you lose a lot of energy."

Most of the Blue Devils' energy became focused on trying to contain the Springers' A.J. Gaston. The 6-foot-2 junior guard had his way with the Hopewell defense all night, whether it was on his powerful drives to the basket or his sweet shooting-stroke from the outside, Gaston finished with ease.

In fact, Gaston scored 19 of Highland Springs' 31 first half points en route to a 32-point night, an impressive individual effort with Hopewell's players keying on him for much of the second half.

However, while the Blue Devils showed some glaring deficiencies in the first two games of the season, there have also been bright spots for a team continuing to learn a new system and style of play.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

It starts with Saunders who has clearly established himself as Hopewell's go-to scorer after dropping in a team-high 20 points while improving on the defensive side. Meanwhile, Fernandez's ability to read the defense and find open teammates was on display throughout the first two games. Even sophomore Deonte Jones showed an ability to score, dropping in 8 points against the Springers.

Add in Darrell Taylor who scored 5 points on the night and Monds' ability to get into scoring position, along with Tabyus Taylor's slashing ability and bright spots shine throughout the lineup.

However, most important, Hopewell's desire to fight remained.

Instead of succumbing to the Springers, the Blue Devils went on a 10-6 run, pulling themselves within 11 points with 4:34 remaining. St. John sensed his team could have one final push in them and called a timeout, imploring his team to keep it simple.

But two turnovers later, the hope for a comeback had evaporated.

"We kept saying if we could get it to single-digits ... we are going to change it up on them," St. John said. "We had another thing we were going to try and we just couldn't get over that hump. We had two possessions in a row where we tried to do too much and those are big swings."

Yet, after playing two games in a 24-hour period, it's Hopewell who can experience the biggest swing. Facing two tough teams in George Wythe the tournament champions and Highland Springs, the Blue Devils learned a lot about themselves.

The experiences can serve to help them improve or remain the same. Either way, with a back-to-back scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, a big swing is coming. It's up to Hopewell to figure out which way.

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