Hopewell Offense Rolls In First-Round Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Dec 26, 2013, 21:09
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
FORT LEE — Just last week, there was uncertainty as to what direction the Hopewell basketball team's season was going in. They had just one win in five games, turned the ball over frequently and struggled to adjust to new offensive and defensive systems put into place before the season.
Then, Hopewell rattled off two wins in a row, winning by an average margin of victory of 49 points, giving them the confidence they could turn the season around. The defense, much maligned over the season's first few games, tightened and the offense became explosive.
The two wins gave the Blue Devils all the confidence they needed as they entered the opening round of the Fort Lee Holiday Basketball Tournament, a tournament they have not won since 2000.
Facing off against a young Benjamin Franklin squad, Hopewell jumped on them early, scoring their first basket just four seconds in on a Johnnie Harrison lay-in. But that was not all as the Blue Devils tallied 10 points in the opening 55 seconds of action on the strength of four forced turnovers.
The early 16-to-2 run signified the type of afternoon which Hopewell experienced, capturing a 86-63 opening round victory, setting them up with a date against Varina Friday evening at 6 p.m.
"We just decided right away that we were going to play our pace, our game," Hopewell head coach Robbie St. John said after the win. "We wanted to take them out of the game early, don't let them hang around."
By the end of the first half of play, the Blue Devils (4-4) had crossed off their main goal, securing a 56-23 half time lead. It marked the second time in three games in which the contest was all but decided within the first 16 minutes.
And it has been a team-wide commitment to play tough defense has led to easy baskets and tremendous leads on the scoreboard. In fact, over the last three games, the Blue Devils are averaging a red-hot 84 points per game.
It's a pace of play St. John has slowly seen his team develop after struggling early, finally seeing the results he's longed for. It's also a pace many teams will not be able to match-up with and the Electrons (1-5), even after a solid second-half effort, are not one of those teams.
"They're young this year, but theoretically so are we," St. John said of his team forcing 23 turnovers. "When you have a young team, some nights things work out and some nights they don't. This was just more our night."
But that would discount the effort each Blue Devils' player put into the game.
In total, 12 different Blue Devils' players tallied points in the 23-point demolition of Benjamin Franklin. Production came from up and down the Blue Devils' roster as they were led by a 21-point performance from Daniel Saunders while Tabyus Taylor and Darrell Taylor finished with 10 and 8 points, respectively.
However, they were not the only ones with success.
Brandon Young tallied a season-high 9 points, finishing off an and-one and nailing two 3-pointers, one of which came at the buzzer as the Blue Devils walked into the locker room. And it was the transition game which propelled Hopewell into being smarter with the ball as they made the extra pass to find the open man.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
St. John said it was an area the team focused on leading up to the tournament.
"We knew they wanted to run a little bit, we knew they were going to play 3-2 zone," St. John said. "We just told them, 'guys, team's zone because they want you to shoot the three.' We're shooting 22 percent on the season from three. We're close to 60 from inside the arc. I'm not telling them to not take a three, but it better be because no one else had a better shot."
The offensive ideology was evident from the start. Instead of firing up 3-point attempts — Hopewell made six on the game, tying a season-high — they hit on 22 two-point field goals and went to the line at will.
Hopewell attempted 34 free throws on the night, connecting on 24 of them for a 71 percent success rate, above their 63 percent average for the season and second-highest output of the year.
Yet, while the focus will be on Hopewell's offensive output and the relentlessness of their full-court pressure, the half-court defense played perhaps its best game of the season. Rotations did not lag and it was a rare moment when an Electron player was left open.
"We played a little 2-3, a little man, that 2-2-1 half-court," St. John said of the different defenses he used. "I think if we can do all three of those well, it keeps teams from getting into a flow."
After a third straight dominating performance on both the offensive and defensive ends, Hopewell looks to be a team gathering its bearings as it aims for a Fort Lee Holiday Tournament finals appearance Friday evening.