Commentary: Defense Halting Prince George's Progress
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Feb 10, 2014, 13:50
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PRINCE GEORGE — Last week, the Royals entered what was the season-defining stretch with four games in a five-day span. The team looked toward the games as a chance to prove their season-long malaise was not indicative of the way they had played over the course of the three-month season.
While the Royals did show a dramatic improvement in their offensive abilities — running half-court sets, taking high-percentage shots and taking care of the basketball — they also showed a weakness which could doom them upon entering the conference tournament.
And the weakness is on the defensive side of the ball which resulted in Prince George dropping three of four games during their most recent stretch. However, the alarming trend is made worse as it has not been one defensive area which has caused problems, but it changes game-to-game.
Facing Thomas Dale after falling to Meadowbrook just two days prior, the Royals played one of their better offensive games of the season, scoring 76 points and doing so efficiently. The young Royals picked their spots to get out in transition and understood what situations dictated a slower pace, showing a maturation on the court.
Yet, on the defensive side of the ball the Royals would play 30 to 35 seconds of pressure-defense to force the Knights into a low-percentage shots. Although after the shots clanked off iron, the troubles set in.
Thomas Dale attacked the weak-side boards all night-long, grabbing offensive rebounds at will, making all the difference in an 87-76 loss.
"We had some defensive lapses out there," head coach Travis Carr said after the loss. "It's frustrating because I love our guard play, but right now against some teams they are undersized, so they have a hard time boxing out and rebounding. You live and die with it."
Unfortunately for the Royals, the defensive side of the ball has led to 15 losses over the course of the season and allowed them to record just one win over the last seven games.
And after falling to a Thomas Dale squad who had not won back-to-back games since Dec. 6 and Dec. 9, the Royals ran into a Matoaca team riding a 10-game win-streak.
With an emphasis on the rebounding battle after having it cost them a game just 24 hours earlier, the Royals' defense did a better job in the blocks, but allowed too many perimeter attempts from the Warriors. Matoaca tallied 11 3-pointers in the first half with guard Devin Morgan responsible for seven of those treys.
Even though the Prince George defense would tighten defensively over the second half, limiting Morgan to just two more 3-pointers and pull closer by limiting the Warriors to just 30 points over the final two quarters, it wasn't enough in the eventual 13-point loss.
"We got to get better on the defensive end overall," Carr said after the loss to Thomas Dale which still ringed true following the game against Matoaca. "I was pleased that we were making shots and getting to the offensive glass ... we just came up short on the defensive end."
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
All of which should leave a little Prince George optimistic about their chances in the tournament if they can tighten defensively over their last two games of the seasons. Fortunately, Carr does not have to look far for a defensive spark-plug.
Facing the Knights, it was Chazz Jenkins displaying the type of effectiveness he could have on the defensive end. Jenkins caused duress for Thomas Dale to even bring the ball up the court, forcing three turnovers in a four-minute span of play.
"Chazz is our silent assassin," Carr explained. "He doesn't say much, but when he gets his opportunity he does something and he's getting better. His game is evolving."
And the Royals are evolving with Jenkins.
Savonte Chappell has been the team's offensive leader throughout the season, providing the tough interior presence the Royals have needed. However, Chappell has since demonstrated an ability to hit the mid-range jump-shot in addition to showing increased hops when driving to the basket.
Quincy Cunningham's ankle is no longer a problem, allowing the junior shooting guard to get lift on his outside shots and battle on the offensive glass. Even Shonquez Henry has grown into his role as a perimeter threat off the bench with his ability to stretch the floor and create lanes toward the paint.
"We got down early, but we got some offense," Carr said talking about the game, but also fitting perfectly with the Royals' season. "Yea, we can go shot-to-shot, but if you can't cut into a deficit without making defensive stops."
With the offense starting to click and roles becoming defined, it's the defense keeping Prince George from reaching their full potential. If they figure it out over their last two games, anything can happen in a tournament setting.