Trojans' Defense, Wiggins Lead To Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 25, 2014, 21:38
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ETTRICK — Following a Glenn Patterson drive to the hoop for a basket just 15 seconds into the second half, Virginia State University's men's basketball team looked toward the scoreboard in front of them and saw a six-point deficit. However, for a team which has struggled to play consistent basketball all season, the Trojans' confidence never wavered.
They knew they had both the playmakers and enough time to mount a comeback. Although, it was not one particular player who took control of the game, but instead it was head coach Lonnie Blow Jr.'s adjustment from the sideline.
The first-year Trojans' coach noticed the Elizabeth City State University squad faced little resistance upon entering the paint, consistently earning high-percentage shots from wherever they wanted. Blow Jr. countered the Vikings' attack with a move of his own — a switch to a 2-3 zone defense designed to pack the paint and force outside jump-shots.
It worked to perfection almost immediately, allowing the Trojans to jump out to an 11-0 run, spanning 5:56 of game-action. The Vikings struggled with the outside shot and could gain little separation upon entering the paint, handing Virginia State all the momentum it needed to take a lead it would not relinquish in a 70-58 victory in Daniel Gymnasium.
"We try to mix it up defensively, so guys don't get into a rhythm on what you're doing," Blow Jr. said after his team's fourth-straight win. "So we went to a zone which we talked about at halftime ... I thought we did a good job at closing out on shooters. The zone helped us keep the ball out of the paint, so I thought it was good for us."
Truth be told, the zone defense was a main reason why Virginia State (11-7) overcame a six-point deficit early in the second half to capture the victory.
In the first half, Elizabeth City (10-9) shot just 11-of-25 from the field for 44 percent, but that would be just part of the story. The penetrating drives through the lane by Miykael Faulcon — who finished with a team-high 16 points — and Darrell Ward led to a plethora of free-throw opportunities. The Vikings connected on 11-of-12 free throws in the first half, but had just three chances the rest of the game.
Couple in the effect of shooting more outside shots due to the Trojans' packing the lane and a 10-of-30 shooting effort won't be enough.
Yet, while Virginia State's defense took center stage over the final 20 minutes, the play forward Kevin Wiggins also stood out. The 6-foot-6 forward entered the game averaging just 6.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, but the junior would blow past those averages.
It was Wiggins who continually cleaned up for his teammate's missed shots, soaring high for critical rebounds before rising with authority to finish around the basket. Wiggins compiled a game-high 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting while also grabbing 12 rebounds, impressing the head coach.
"He's been tough," Blow Jr. said of the junior. "I'll tell you what, he's on a roll right now, but I don't want to say too much because I don't want to jinx him. But he's been doing a good job for us inside and on the boards and did it again tonight."
However, Wiggins did not do it by himself on this night.
He was helped out by a team-wide shooting display, including 8-of-20 from 3-point range for 40 percent on the night, led by Lamar Kearse and Chris Grier. Grier went 3-of-5 from the field with all three of his field goals coming from beyond-the-arc, totaling 9 points on the game.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Yet, Kearse's impact is felt even more.
The junior guard dropped in 16 points including going a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line, but it's the leadership he brings which sets him apart. Kearse runs the offense to perfection while also picking his spots to push the tempo and get out in transition.
His knowledge of the game is seen with every dribble, pass and shot he takes during the game.
"He leads by example and he does a lot of good things out there for us," Blow Jr. said of the Syracuse, N.Y. native. "He controls the tempo a lot and that's important for us. We need to control it whether we want to play fast or we want to play slow."
And over the last four games, the tempo has been just right for a Virginia State team in the midst of a four-game win-streak and playing in stark contrast to their six-game losing-streak which preceded their current form.
With nine players cracking the scoresheet — and eight of those scoring at least three points — Blow Jr.'s squad is starting to play a better brand of basketball at the right time.
"First of all our defensive intensity has picked up a bit and I think our attention to detail defensively has grown," Blow Jr. said of his team's improvement. "I just think we are understanding what we want to do on both ends of the floor. We're playing team basketball offensively ... basically having an idea of what it takes."
With just six games remaining before the CIAA Tournament, the Trojans are starting to peak at the right time, putting together solid efforts on both sides of the court every night out. If it continues, the Trojans could win the Northern Division and snatch a higher seed at the end of February.