Blue Devils Comeback Falls Short
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 7, 2014, 22:14
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — With the seconds ticking down on another Blue Devils' loss, Daniel Saunders received a bounce pass in the low-blocks, gathered himself and rose into the air, releasing the basketball away from his body and off the glass for a bucket to cut Dinwiddie's lead to six points.
Blue Devils' head coach Robbie St. John immediately called a timeout to set up a defense and a plan to attack the Generals by using defensive and offensive substitutions. Inserting Johnnie Harrison into the game on the defensive side paid immediate dividends as Hopewell forced Dinwiddie's Joe Lewis into a traveling call in the backcourt.
However, on the ensuing possession, Saunders misfired on a corner 3-pointer before it was corralled by the Generals. It would foreshadow the events to unfold as Hopewell forced Dinwiddie into four turnovers over the final 65 seconds, but could not convert on their four offensive opportunities.
The Blue Devils committed two turnovers and missed two long-range shots plus an offensive rebound and put-back opportunity by Tabyus Taylor who dropped in a team-high 15 points, wasting a chance to snap a two-game winning streak as they fell to Dinwiddie, 66-60.
"We just couldn't crack that six-point deficit and as the game progressed and time got lower and lower, our kids kept looking up," St. John said of his team's third consecutive loss. "What I noticed is we don't have a good sense of how long a minute is ... all we needed to do was keep going at them and not jack up threes."
Yet, that's what Hopewell (8-12) did starting with three minutes to go in regulation. It's the type of mistake that happens with a young team still learning how to finish games. There have been games where the Blue Devils have been ahead before losing and when they have trailed, fought back, but fell short.
It's the type of mental road-block which Hopewell must get past over their final two games to be fully ready for the Conference 26 Tournament.
"We got to get over that hump," St. John said of the late-game miscues. "This is probably the fifth game that in the fourth quarter where we did everything we needed to do to win, except convert on the offensive end."
However, even with the offensive struggles in the most crucial of moments, Hopewell's defense has continued to mold itself into a stingy unit. The Blue Devils allowed the Generals' (10-8) Jourdon Winfield to score 18 points in the first half of play, but just eight more in the second half as they focused on running him off the line and making him uncomfortable with swarming pressure.
And it's not just the starters who have made an impact defensively.
Harrison has become an instant defensive spark for Hopewell with his ability to read telegraphed passes for easy steals and transition lay-ins. Even Jahquan Harris supplied solid minutes on the defensive end in limited playing time while also making his lone field-goal attempt of the night.
It's an example of how St. John's squad is starting to morph into a complete team.
No longer are players unsure of themselves. Instead, each player knows their role on the team and when they enter the game, it's been automatic production. It was no exception against the Generals.
Sophomore Antoine Ford has taken to his role as a 3-point and defensive specialist well over the past few games. Ford nailed two big 3-pointers against the Generals, scoring 6 points on the night, meanwhile Thorton McCoy has also delivered steadying minutes on the glass and even showed promise with a raw offensive skill-set.
"It is, especially when sophomores are doing that," St. John said of his team's development. "We have the luxury and sometimes the curse of deciding whether Daniel or Deonte stay on because Antoine is hitting at such a high-level ... we're trying to get TJ into the mix ... it's a process."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
However, nothing is more promising to the process than the effort of Malik Monds who continues to play at a higher level as the season draws to a close. Against Dinwiddie, Monds connected on three consecutive elbow jump-shots before also showing off a left-handed hook in the paint.
Yet, he also showed why he is not a traditional forward as he struggled late in the game with his back to the basket.
"I thought Malik came through in a lot situations but in the end we were trying to get the ball in his hands and couldn't do it," St. John said of Monds' 14-point effort.
All of which points to a team which has continued to develop and improve over the course of the three-month season.
With two games still to be played, Hopewell has a chance to gain some momentum heading into the conference tournament. If their play is any indication, the Blue Devils are on the verge of getting over the late-game mental-block which has halted them over the past week.