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

Adjustments Lead Hopewell To Rout of Royals
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 10, 2013, 23:01

Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL After suffering a 19-point loss to Meadowbrook, Blue Devils head coach Robbie St. John knew there had to be an adjustment made. Over three previous games, his team frequently found itself in foul trouble, behind by double-digits after one period of play and making mental errors which resulted in turnovers and poor shot-selection.

Yet, St. John had a plan which could turn around Hopewell's season and get them on a winning track. It revolved around implementing a full-court pressure defense, one the Blue Devils worked on extensively prior to the season and in an exhibition win over Patrick Henry.

However, due to their early-season woes, St. John had not utilized the defense, concerned by the amount of fouls his team could compile. But against Prince George, he decided to let his team loose and it paid dividends from the start.

Hopewell jumped out to a 13-3 lead over the Royals based on the strength of forcing turnovers at an alarming rate, leading to easy lay-ins and high-percentage shooting opportunities en route to a dominating, 85-57 win.

"Tonight, we decided since we are in foul trouble anyway, let's just press from start to finish, let's go ahead and do what we do," St. John said of his defense which forced 22 turnovers on the night. "That is Hopewell basketball. We decided we were going to attack them in all phases of the game."

The Blue Devils' aggressiveness befuddled the Royals, taking them out of their own up-tempo, high-pressure system.

Instead of allowing the Royals to set-up in a defense, Hopewell pushed the ball after every missed shot and drove through the paint to draw fouls and continually put points on the scoreboard. By the end of the night, Hopewell had battered Prince George inside as they drew fouls at will, attempting 39 total free throws in the win.

St. John said it was a concerted effort to help combat the athleticism of Prince George and take advantage of the transition game against a zone defense.

"They wanted to zone us, so if we pushed the ball up the floor, either they have to hog the paint up and they're not in their zone or they go back to the zone and leave the middle open," St. John explained of the strategy. "I think we caught them in both situations."

Prince George head coach Travis Carr agreed.

"The turnovers were a problem in the first half," Carr said. "Their full-court press caused many turnovers and that's something we need to get better at because you are going to see pressure all season long. You need to be able to make teams pay for putting pressure on us."

But the only person to make people pay was Hopewell's Daniel Saunders.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot

The junior guard struggled in a loss to Meadowbrook Monday night, going just 3-of-8 from the field for a season-low 8 points. However, in the 24-hour span between the games, he made an adjustment and it worked to the Blue Devils' advantage.

Saunders scored 10 consecutive Hopewell points in the first quarter, going on his own personal 10-5 run to extend the lead to double-digits. Yet, a hot first quarter was not the highlight of Saunders' night.

Hopewell's leading scorer entering the game, averaging 15 points per contest, scored 13 more in the second quarter, finishing the game with a season and game-high of 34 points.

His success came from a mindset switch after St. John and the coaches discussed the difference in percentages from his 3-point shooting and two-point field goal-attempts.

"He's 63 percent from inside the arc, so maybe we just go to the hoop more," St. John said of the reasoning. "The only way we are going to get good, quality shots is by driving to the basket and he got some early. When Daniel starts driving to the basket, everyone else gets open, too."

And it was the multi-faceted attack which allowed 12 Hopewell players to crack the score-sheet, including Malik Monds' 11 points and Tabyus Taylor's 10 points.

"When we stop worrying about who scores and focus on winning, we're a tough team to beat," St. John said.

Yet, Hopewell's first win of the season had more meaning to St. John than just ending a three-game slide which included an average margin of defeat of 15.6.The win also marked St. John's first as head coach of the Blue Devils, a personal accomplishment signified by receiving the game-ball after the game.

"We're hoping there is going to be a second and third," St. John said with a laugh. "But it's one of those you can't script it better. Prince George is a rivalry game. It meant a lot to our kids. I'm just happy that at the end of the game, the result is more reflective of what we see in practice. Hopefully, we are getting on that right track."

After two noticeable coaching adjustments, Hopewell tallied their first win of the season. However, while it's unknown whether the Blue Devils can maintain their effort into Friday's game at Thomas Dale, the win against the Royals provides a winning blueprint to follow all season long.

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