Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ARC's "preseason" should have Musketeers ready

Region AAAAA member ARC probably knows best the grind local AAA teams face in the coming weeks, as the Musketeers have played five games versus those teams already this season.  The Musketeers' lone win against that group came weeks ago in Glenn Hills' gym.  But the experience should set up coach Steve Nobles' team nicely for its coming region schedule.


After Friday's loss to Butler at Paine College, coach Nobles explained that he schedules November and December with the upcoming region schedule in mind.  I think he crafted a good slate as the Musketeers (6-8) can use the experience to understand their potential and to identify areas of weakness.


Regarding ARC's strengths, the team showed signs of competitive spirit in reducing Butler's lead from 16 points to 1 over a 12 minute period between the middle of the second quarter and the end of the third.  Many teams would have folded after being down by so many points, so early.


But senior Moses Lewis doesn't seem to have any quit in him.  He led the Richmond offense with an ability to handle the ball under pressure, beat his man to the basket, and make shots.  He did these things consistently against Butler and again versus Josey Saturday, when the Musketeers' comeback attempt was cut short by the Eagles' red hot shooting.








Having a guard who can reliably handle pressure and put the ball in the hoop will serve Richmond well in region play.  I think Lewis is the best guard in Richmond's new sub region (2A-AAAAA), and he is a major reason I'll probably pick the Musketeers as a favorite to win the regular season race.   A good thing about Lewis' play is that he takes his opportunities in the flow of the offense.  And he makes sure the right guys stay involved in the action.  This brings me to the second major strength Richmond possesses:  its inside play.  

Nick Roberts has the potential to be a real difference maker.  The 6'6" junior has a sweet shooting touch and looks skilled enough to be that seemingly rare player: a low post scoring threat.  Seriously.  Those players still exist! More repetitions on the court should continue to do wonders for Roberts.  And his 6'5" sidekick, Rashaud Green brings some of the power and agility that Roberts currently lacks.  Green is not as skilled as Roberts and has more trouble scoring.  But the two combine to make up maybe the most impressive inside attack I've seen from AAAAA teams.







The inside-outside attack described above is likely what benefitted ARC in its recent 3-0 showing at a holiday tournament in Macon.  But it wasn't enough last weekend at Paine.  This brings me to ARC's apparent weaknesses.  The Musketeers turn the ball over too much and they give up too many offensive rebounds.  I have wittern about the importance of these two aspects of the game.  Too often versus Butler and Josey did ARC give its opponents easy opportunities in transition after turnovers and off the glass.  I also have concerns about whether the Musketeers give the kind of effort needed to maintain a winning season.  I only saw two games.  But it seemed both Butler and Josey beat them to the loose balls and rebounds that were up for grabs.


The Musketeers have tasted success early in what coach Nobles calls the "preseason."  But they have also been humbled.  Success in region play is theirs for the taking.  I look forward to seeing if they grab it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Josey coasts to victory against ARC

Darius Williams
One of the traits I believe the young guys who play high school (and even college) basketball share is a lack of self confidence.  I often encourage a guy to believe in himself more.  That this vulnerability in adolescents exists is logical.  But I suspect that if I were to tell Josey's Darius Williams he needs to believe in himself more, he may chuckle.  For he, more than anyone I've seen play in person this season, oozes with confidence while between the lines of a basketball court.  And he does so for good reasons.


Before the nightcap of Saturday's set of holiday tournament games at Paine College, Williams bobbed to the beats playing over the live speaker while meeting with officials and other team captains minutes before tip-off.  And literally seconds after the opening tip, Williams had run off 5 points (counting two made free throws prior to jump ball after an ARC technical foul).  A blink later, the sharpshooter helped Josey build a 10-1 lead, then shortly after, a 20-7 advantage.  And before most on the court had settled into the flow of the game, Darius had scored 12 of his team's first quarter points and Josey had taken a 25-12 advantage to start the second quarter.


And as is his practice, most of Williams' baskets were of the spectacular variety:






Williams then did something else he does very well: he trusted his teammates to help carry the load offensively.   And they did so in impressive fashion.  Both in Josey's near victory versus Butler and in its drilling of ARC Saturday, Donald Jordan, Janathan Butler, Kahlon Whitley, and Javen Whitehead have been impressive.  All for different reasons.  When the strengths of these four hard nosed competitors is added to Darius' gifts, 2+2 seems to equal 5.  It definitely did Saturday, as Josey coasted to victory over the Musketeers.



Rhodes and Coleman lead Butler to win over ARC

Butler's Ben Rhodes
Butler's Ben Rhodes has been instrumental in his team's 11-1 start to the season. Friday's 74-60 win over ARC in the first of three holiday tournament games at the Paine College gym was no exception.  The quiet but effective lefty drained 4 three pointers in the first half as the Bulldogs established a commanding lead. He and teammate Don Coleman then thwarted a Musketeer comeback attempt, scoring a combined 19 points in the final 8 minutes.  Rhodes ended with 25 and Coleman added 24 in the win.

Game Notes

I've been impressed with the number of ways Rhodes has helped his team win this season.  With Coleman on the bench late in a region contest at Josey, he made huge hustle plays to spark an important comeback win.  He also created a lot of opportunities with his effort in the team's 88-81 home win versus Heritage, the only team that has beaten the Bulldogs this season.








Friday's scoring burst may have been a season high for Rhodes, but it was nothing new to his coach, his teammates, or to me.  In the only other Butler game I've seen in person, a season opening scorching of Salem at Evans High School, Ben drove baseline going right and converted multiple three point plays after drawing contact.  His willingness to do what his team needs him to do to get wins, his consistent effort on both ends, and his ability to shoot from deep AND create off the dribble makes him a great teammate.  Coleman called this out Saturday in an Instagram post to the right:


Speaking of Coleman, I continue to be impressed with his growth as a leader and a scorer.  It took him a few tries to get in rhythm Friday, but I don't remember any shots that I would prefer he not take.  And he was at his best after Richmond cut the deficit to 1 point in final period.  He was assertive offensively in every way.  He patiently handled double and triple teams in the back court, finding teammates for easy baskets.  And he was electric in the half court offense, making threes off the bounce and getting to the basket for scores that eventually erased ARC's hopes.







Butler will now turn its entire focus on its region schedule, which coach Cervantes Boddy jokingly called "murderer's row."  Road wins at Josey and Washington County before the holiday break got the Bulldogs off to a fast start.  I have made a fuss over my circling for my schedule the January 9 game at Laney.  But for the Bulldogs to be great (like I believe they can be) they will not only need to compete fiercely in highly anticipated matchups like that one, but also in games like those ahead on January 2 (versus Glenn Hills) and January 6 (versus Westside).


Added Bonus:

I was asked multiple time Friday if I'd caught on film junior Ricquail Smoot's two-handed, off-the-stride tip dunk in transition.  I did.  Smoot sat, due to foul trouble, during much of Friday's game.  But here is a moment early that contributed to Butler's fast start and got the crowd buzzing:








***Here are some posts from the pasts about Don and the Butler Bulldogs.***

Dec 29, 2014
Rhodes and Coleman lead Butler to win over ARC

Dec 24, 2014
Butler avenges season's only loss

Dec 17, 2014
Butler takes a backseat to no one

Dec 1, 2014
Don Coleman:  A Timeline

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Aug 27, 2013
Coleman Measures Up Nicely

Jan 3, 2013
Butler Controls its Destiny

Jan 24, 2013
Butler's Coleman does it Again

Dec 1, 2012
Thoughts from the Weekend:  Butler

Nov 23, 2012
Thanksgiving Classic Notes:  Butler Bulldogs

Aug 1, 2011
Southern Kings 14u Return from Vegas with Heads High

July 21, 2011
Southern Kings 14u AAU Team Returns from Orlando, and Heads to Las Vegas


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The full gyms at Laney's games remind me of something





The best high school team I've seen in our area's history was Westside's 1994-95 team.  Good friends Ricky Moore and Will Avery led the Patriots to a state title and USA Today pegged the team as our nation's ninth best.  Four years later, Moore and Avery met again as opponents in the NCAA national championship game (Moore's UConn Huskies defeated Avery's Duke Blue Devils in an instant classic).  That this team was great is obvious.  One of the neatest things about that team was the spectacle at its games.  There was never an empty seat, home or away, when Westside played.

I have made quite the fuss over this season's Laney Wildcats.  Although the Wildcats have been to five consecutive state playoff semifinals and won a state championship in 2012, this team is playing at a higher level than any of those teams.  They won consistently at the AA level.  This team has beaten the state's biggest and best schools.  And most who follow high school hoops believe the Wildcats are the favorite to win the state championship in its new AAA classification.  But I'll take it a step further and say Laney may finish the season with a resume better than any area team since that Westside team of 20 years ago.

The Wildcats have logged early wins over Pebblebrook and Norcross (both 6A), Stephenson (5A), and defending AAA state champion Morgan County.  These are impressive, tangible results.  But something I've noticed that is more intangible is what brought that old Westside team to mind as a comparison:  the crowds at Laney's games this season.  Whether it be the November matchup with Morgan County at home, a neutral court tip-off tourney contest with Stephenson, or last week's region matchups with Glenn Hills (on the road) and Westside, there was one common element:  no empty seats in the stands.  Hoops fans understand what Laney is doing.  And they are not missing any opportunities to witness it in person.

But there is also a difference between the teams 20 years removed from each other.  Ricky instantly recalled it in a fun interview I did with him for the blog in 2012.  That Westside team faced serious competition.  Thomson was dynamite, led by Pittsburg and NBA bound Vonteego Cummings and Florida bound Antron Lee.  And Richmond Academy, who featured three eventual division 1 players, including Seton Hall Pirate Ty Shine, actually beat Westside twice during the regular season. Additionally, every team gave the Patriots their best shot.  During Laney's first week of region play, this element of competitiveness has been missing.  Despite a supportive crowd, Glenn Hills looked very tentative at home Tuesday, and Laney sprinted out to a 35-9 lead in the second quarter.  And the Wildcats literally beat the 2014 version of the Westside Patriots by 50 Friday.

I anticipated fun battles between our area's AAA teams.  There is plenty of basketball to be played. The teams that have been humbled by Laney have a chance to redeem themselves in coming region action.  Teams like Josey and Washington County have players with competitive spirits who I presume will not lay down when the time comes.  And I have already said Butler should take a back seat to no one.  After avenging an early season road loss to Heritage Saturday with an 88-81 home win, the Bulldogs (9-1) have now beaten every team in their path.  And more importantly, the senior heavy team won its first two region games, both on the road, versus Josey and Washington County. As was the case before AAA region play began, I expect Laney to be tested.  I have circled January 9, the date when Butler visits Laney, as must see hoops action.

As Westside taught us and Ricky reminded me, great teams need great competition from other great teams.  Here is hoping the AAA teams in our area realize the Wildcats put their pants on one leg at a time.  And that effort does wonders on a basketball court.  And that we will have one or more great teams that eventually rival that 20 year old Westside team's accomplishments.

***Here are some posts from the past about Laney***

Dec 25, 2014
The full gyms at Laney's games remind me of something

Dec 16, 2014
Laney hustles its way to another huge win

Dec 9, 2014
Laney's Secret Sauce:  Playing Harder (Easier said than done)

Dec 1, 2014
Laney Beats Morgan County at Home

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Nov 16, 2014
Laney falls short in season opening thriller

Nov 11, 2014
Laney Opens Season with Nationally Ranked St. Francis

July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off

Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement

March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Butler avenges season's only loss

The more I watch Butler, the more I believe the Bulldogs can be a great team.  Senior Don Coleman is probably our area's best player.  His teammates and he play extremely hard.  They also play together and support each other.  After earning a pair of crucial region road wins at Josey and Washington County, the Bulldogs avenged its only loss of the season at home Saturday in an 88-81 victory that Coleman punctuated with a 38 point explosion.

Despite Coleman initiating much of the offense, Butler has great chemistry.  Seniors Tyekeith McClattie, Ben Rhodes, and Jaylon Archie continue to cause havoc all over the court in the Bulldogs' full court trapping defense.  They make their fair share of offensive plays, too.  And Ricquail Smoot anchors the defense with by getting in position to block and change opponents' shots.  Smoot is also a capable offensive player with a nice touch.  Let's look closely Butler's performance Saturday.

Game Notes

Many high school teams have trouble scoring.  Two years ago, when Frank Booker led Westside to a regular season sub region title and a region tournament championship I often predicted Patriot victories because I thought Westside had a head start scoring wise because you could pretty much mark Frank down for 25-30 points or more each outing.  This is how I feel about Coleman and Butler.  Like Frank, Don is a volume shooter.  At times he can take questionable shots.  But I'm not the one to question them.  I've coached some exceptional scorers.  And I often encouraged them to "take some bad shots" for two reasons:  a great scorer's bad shots are often better than a lesser scorer's "good shots."  And as a former shooter I realize that scorers need to get into a rhythm offensively.

Don was in rhythm instantly Saturday.  Whether scoring off a high screen, catching and shooting, or even the occasional heat checking step back three, he looked very comfortable on the way to his season high of 38 points.  See here:







As mentioned above, and during a post after Butler's region win over Josey, seniors Rhodes, McClattie, and Archie spearhead the second aspect of Butler's identity that couples with Coleman's offense to make the Bulldogs such a threat.  This is the defensive pressure and sheer effort that forces opponents into mistakes.  Along with Jzwa Collier, Deandre Barton, and others, these guys live on the floor, diving for loose balls and creating extra possessions and opportunities in the open court. And Smoot is a much better deterrent at the rim than I realized.  He blocks and changes many shots. This is easier to show than explain...






These guys also make offensive plays...






Now I'll share the sequence from Saturday's game that gave Butler its first real lead.  Early in the third quarter, Archie chose to set up an offensive set rather than swinging the ball to an open Coleman.  Don was visibly upset.  But rather than let it affect his play (or his team's) he quickly went to the floor for a loose ball and converted a three point play.  Four possessions later, Coleman had run off 10 consecutive points and Butler had opened up a 7 point lead.  The frustration Don showed to his friend and teammate was the kind teammates on good teammates share with each other.  These teammates hold each other accountable, get things off their chests, and move forward, leading by example.  This was an important set of possessions that pushed Butler ahead for good in a game they wanted badly.






***Here are some posts from the past about Butler***

Dec 24, 2014
Butler avenges season's only loss

Dec 17, 2014
Butler takes a backseat to no one

Dec 1, 2014
Don Coleman:  A Timeline

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Aug 27, 2013
Coleman Measures Up Nicely

Jan 3, 2013
Butler Controls its Destiny

Jan 24, 2013
Butler's Coleman does it Again

Dec 1, 2012
Thoughts from the Weekend:  Butler

Nov 23, 2012
Thanksgiving Classic Notes:  Butler Bulldogs

Aug 1, 2011
Southern Kings 14u Return from Vegas with Heads High

July 21, 2011
Southern Kings 14u AAU Team Returns from Orlando, and Heads to Las Vegas

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

GRU splits pair of home conference games





Winning basketball games can usually be tracked back to three key factors:  rebounding, turnovers, and good shot selection.  The first two usually affect the third because offensive rebounds and turnovers often lead to easy shots.  After flirting with trouble in these areas in a 68-58 home win over conference foe Georgia Southwestern Thursday, GRU Augusta suffered its second defeat of the season, and its first in Peach Belt action in a 72-67 home loss to Montavello Saturday.  Along with a long offensive drought, the Jaguars got clobbered on the boards Saturday, which was too much to overcome against a team as talented as Montavello (preseason Peach Belt favorites).

The first crack in the Jags' armor appeared Thursday during an 8 minute stretch in the second half when Georgia Southwestern scored 11 points off two offensive rebounds and three steals and took a brief 50-49 lead after trailing by 8 at halftime.  A quick 9 point spurt by senior D'Angelo Boyce sparked a 17-4 GRU run and the Jags would go on to a 68-58 victory in its Peach Belt opener at home.  Seniors Boyce (11 points), Devonte Thomas (17 points including 5 three pointers) and Devon Wright-Nelson (11 points) led the way.

Saturday's contest began well for the Jags as Thomas drilled 4 of his 5 three point attempts and made two free throws after being fouled on another try.  But as the first half wore on, the Jags looked tight offensively.  After scoring 15 points in the opening 6 minutes and taking a six point lead on a Wright-Nelson three, GRU managed only 16 points in the next 16 minutes before sophomore Keith Crump tapped in a Wright-Nelson miss at the first half buzzer to pull the Jags to within 1 point of Montavello at 34-33.

The dry spell would continue as GRU scored 18 points in the first 17 minutes of second half action and fall behind 61-50.  A late Jags run included 10 points from sophomore Keshun Sherrill and narrowed the deficit to 68-64 with :29 remaining, but the hole was too big for GRU to overcome.

The trouble scoring put a great deal of pressure on GRU's defense.  While Montavello patiently worked to get its guards in position to attack off the dribble, the Jaguars' initial defense was solid.  But Montavello rebounded 6 of its 13 second half misses and converted enough of the opportunities to retain the lead throughout.

Five Montavello players average 10 or more points per game this season.  Saturday's scoring was balanced as Troran Brown (16), Larry Slaughter (15), Bryant Orange (15), and Shykeem Jackson (10) led the way.  Thomas (23), Sherrill (15), and senior Henry McCarthy (10) led the Jags in defeat.  Montavello improved to 2-0 in conference play while GRU's conference record stands even at 1-1.  The Jags are 8-2 overall and look forward to hosting Wingate of the Southland Athletic Conference on December 31.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Harlem's Beard big in clutch

The Harlem Bulldogs were recently pegged as Georgia's 9th best team in class AA.  I thought before the season that the Bulldogs could make a deep run in the state playoffs simply because Florida Gulf Coast bound Reggie Reid is a very good player who can overpower many of his opponents with his speed and athleticism.  The Bulldogs now take a 12-1 record into the holidays and coach Kim Chambers team has yet to lose with Reid on the floor.  But Chambers and the Harlem faithful have also benefited from something I view as a surprise:  the emergence of senior Torien Beard. The athletic guard with a nice shooting touch has not posted the gaudy stats his more heralded teammate has, but he gives the Bulldogs another matchup problem on the perimeter.  He doesn't need to be the focus of the offense to make an impact as he scores in all ways:  in transition, off the offensive glass, catching and shooting from deep, and driving to the rim.  This provides a great complement to Reid, who can always be relied on to create easy shots for himself and others.

But when called upon, Beard is ready.  Example:  Friday's come-from-behind 63-61 win over county rival Grovetown.  Beard scored the team's last 9 points, helping the Bulldogs overcome an 11 point deficit in the game's final three minutes.  With the win, Harlem, long an also ran in the county, finished a 7-1 run over the past 60 days versus AAAA rivals Lakeside, Evans, Greenbrier, and Grovetown.  The only loss (to Greenbrier) came in Reid's absence.

Game Notes

Beard played his best when his teammates needed him most, scoring 9 of his 17 points in the final 3 minutes.  He also did it in style.  His shooting stroke is simple and smooth.  He makes a high percentage of his threes, and he has a knack for making touch shots on the move.  These are shots he is able to get pretty easily because of his exceptional athleticism.  See his late game spurt here:





Before Beard's heroics, Reid kept Harlem close by never letting his foot off the gas offensively. Contrary to what I saw in the win against Lakeside, he attacked on virtually every possession and forced Grovetown to foul him frequently.  Harlem will need this kind of resolve if the Bulldogs are to go deep in post season play.  Reid led all scorers Friday with 26 points.






Grovetown has long been a team dominated by its now trio of seniors:  Logan Morris, Solomon Gause, and Kenny Joseph.  Morris has all the tools, including a deep shot and the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and score with floaters and at the free throw line.  Gause and Joseph struggled to keep possession down the stretch against Harlem's pressure.  But they both can score the ball.  These three will need to learn to lead a winning team in upcoming region play as they enter the end of their high school basketball tenure together.  See them here:



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Butler takes backseat to no one

I've spent lots of time praising Laney in the lead up to region competition.  But the attention I have given the Wildcats should not be seen as a signal that I believe Butler does not have the chops to be our area's best region's best team.  This senior heavy group is unique in its reliance on a single scorer, 6'2" Florida Atlantic bound guard Don Coleman, to generate much of the offense.  But regardless of the team's source of points, the Bulldogs are a cohesive unit.  Coach Cervantes Boddy's group proved that Tuesday by earning a hard fought, 67-60 victory in a hostile environment against a red hot region foe, Josey.

Great teams react well to adversity.  And they win on the road in difficult circumstances.  Butler (8-1, 1-0) showed signs of greatness Tuesday, absorbing the best Josey had to give and coming back twice from 8 point deficits, one at halftime and one midway through the fourth quarter, and making the necessary plays to earn the road win.  Coleman led the way with 19 points.  6'6" junior Ricquail Smoot added 12.  And a trio of seniors (Jaylon Archie, Ben Rhodes, and Ty'keith McClattie) combined to score 27 points, including a fourth quarter burst that put the Bulldogs ahead for good.

Senior guard Darius Williams led Josey with 21 points, and Donald Jordan chipped in 15.

Butler's next test is another difficult road game against a region foe, Washington County (Friday). Josey is off until after Christmas.

Game Notes

The game's first half was probably the most entertaining chunk of high school basketball I've seen this season.  With Archie and McClattie draped all over him, Josey's Williams made some extremely difficult shots from all angles on his way to 14 first half points.  And at almost every turn, Coleman answered with an equally impressive basket at the other end.  Accustomed to zooming the AugBball camera on the player who makes a basket as he runs back on defense, my buddy who filmed the game barely caught two Coleman answers to Williams' buckets because he retaliated so quickly.  The teams' full court man-to-man pressing styles mixed with the offensive firepower of these two produced a spectacle that electrified the gym.  By halftime, Josey had made a couple more shots than Butler and built a 34-26 lead.







But certain signs were already emerging that implied this would be Butler's night.  Archie and McClattie were making Williams work so hard for his points that it would take a one of a kind performance even for Darius to repeat his first half heroics in the second half.  Kudos to the Bulldogs' gritty seniors for keeping Williams in front of them and making him take difficult jump shots for four quarters.  These shots didn't fall in the second half nearly as often as the first.







Butler roared back into the lead early in the third quarter as McClattie made two timely baskets and Butler maintained its defensive tenacity.  But Josey got some well timed offensive help from Jordan and sophomore Dominique Hurst, taking another 8 point lead in the fourth quarter, and with Coleman on the bench, Josey appeared to be on its way to victory.







I've written a lot about Laney's effort level being the single biggest reason for their early season success.  Most high school teams have similar talent levels.  All the kids from all the schools play with and against each other 12 months a year from a very young age.  When the regular season comes, it is usually the teams that consistently play the hardest that separate themselves.  The effort and intensity Butler displayed in Tuesday's fourth quarter especially (but it was great all night) was second to that of no team I've seen this season, including Laney.  Rhodes, McClattie, Archie, and Jzwa Collier led a furious comeback filled with steals, offensive rebounds, and floor burns.  Smoot chipped in some timely blocks to ignite transition opportunities.  And before I could blink, Butler had erased Josey's lead and gotten an important road victory to begin the region schedule.






I've watched some of the area's players so much that I sometimes feel like a far off coach to many of them.  I've shared that I like Don Coleman and root for him to be successful.  Many have noticed that this season he seems particularly eager to lead a great team.  I've certainly noticed this too.  So when Butler finished its game deciding run with him on the bench Tuesday, I wondered what his reaction would be.  This clip is one of my favorites because it shows his jubilation as he greets his teammates/friends as they come to the bench following a Butler basket that punctuated the game deciding run.  He nearly knocks a teammate over with a chest bump!






Extra Feature

A game like Tuesday's is heavy on running and shooting, often from deep and without many passes. This is not the ideal environment to display the offensive abilities of a post player.  But the Bulldogs were wise in making a concerted effort to get Ricquail Smoot the ball deep in the post.  They were rewarded with high percentage shots.  Smoot may be the area's most skilled offensive post player.  He made key contributions on the glass, protecting the paint, and in the post.  He also showed his soft shooting touch with a second half three pointer.

And Josey's Javen Whitehead (6'3" sophomore) impacted the game around the basket as well.  He is very athletic and physical.  He changed and blocked shots and rebounded and scored off the offensive glass.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Laney hustles its way to another huge win

Last week I wrote that Laney's "secret sauce" is playing harder, much harder, than its opponents.  I should add that it helps to have a bunch of guys who can make shots.  For the second consecutive Saturday, the Wildcats knocked off one of the state's best teams in their own backyard.  The latest victim was Georgia's then third ranked (according to HoopSeen.com) Norcross.  While only managing to score 8 points and 9 points in the first and third quarters, respectively, Buck Harris' team proved that defense and effort travel well.  And it didn't hurt that the team closed each half with monster offensive performances, scoring a combined 53 points to seal the 70-59 win in the GAC/Blue Collar Basketball Showcase.

Junior Zep Jasper (16), senior Jashawn Brooks (15) and Christian Keeling (13) led the Wildcats in scoring.  After defeating the state's then #1 ranked Pebblebrook and then #3 ranked Norcross, Laney continues its march up Hoop Seen's "Power Poll" rankings into the #2 spot.  Tonight the Wildcats begin their region schedule against local rival Glenn Hills.  The Spartans host the Laney at 6:45 P.M.

Notes from Saturday

Laney relied on its defense to stay within striking distance while the team struggled to score early. This clip begins with the game's initial possession.  Norcross is unable to get into its offense and Zep Jasper and Christian Keeling are extremely active, eventually forcing a turnover.  Then you'll see Jasper, Jaylen Taylor, and Collin Young make enough shots to give Laney a 13-12 lead early in the second quarter.






The next video begins with the most exciting sequence of the first half as Jasper buries a three, Jervon Walker gets a steal and finishes in transition, and after Jasper makes a diving save and starts another fast break, Taylor dunks with two hands off the stride in transition over Norcross' center to give Laney a 20-14 lead.  Later in the video, Brooks and Young make shots to give Laney a 28-20 lead. These two will be back later with more game changing plays.






Laney would nurse an 8-10 point lead until a furious Norcross run cut the deficit to 2 entering the 4th quarter.  Then the Wildcats would benefit from the kind of effort that coaches dream of getting from players.  The next video shows no fewer than five fourth quarter possessions where sheer effort creates baskets out of nothing.  Young stays with his own miss to convert amongst the trees. Brooks saves a sure Norcross two and turns it into free throws for Keeling, Jasper goes to the floor to spark a break that ends in a putback for Walker, and Taylor goes to the ground twice to get Laney a possession first and Brooks a breakaway dunk next.






But Norcross is too good to beat with hustle alone.  Plays would have to be made.  Jasper, Brooks, and Young have made big time plays in clutch moments against Saint Francis, Morgan County, and Pebblebrook.  Saturday's win was no exception.  Watch them make shots here:







***Here are posts from the past about the Laney Wildcats***

Dec 9, 2014
Laney's Secret Sauce:  Playing Harder (Easier said than done)

Dec 1, 2014
Laney Beats Morgan County at Home

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Nov 16, 2014
Laney falls short in season opening thriller

Nov 11, 2014
Laney Opens Season with Nationally Ranked St. Francis

July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off

Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement

March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cook and Brinson: Both exceptional in more than one way

Entering Saturday's non region matchup between Glenn Hills and Aquinas, I was eager to see two players I know a good bit about but have never really watched play basketball for a whole game. Glenn Hills' Ziaire Cook (senior) and Aquinas' San Antonio Brinson (junior) share the distinction of being very young for their classes.  It has been documented in books like "Outliers" that athletes who are at the older end of the spectrum in their respective grades make up a disproportionate amount of those who end up at the elite level.  This is why so many children and parents decide to hold back a year (I did) to get more physically and mentally mature before entering high school.  So Cook and Brinson's setting themselves apart from most of their peers is an exceptional feat.

Even more appealing to me is their performances in the classroom.  A college basketball coach with knowledge of Cook's standardized test score told me his is the highest he's ever seen from a prospective college basketball player.  And my friend Matt Scott, a reliable source for all things Aquinas, bragged to me about San Antonio's 3.5 GPA.  After learning more about their abilities on the court and in the classroom, I'll be circling the dates on the calendar for as many Glenn Hills and Aquinas games as I can.

Saturday's matchup featured Brinson at his best, as he scored 23 points in the first half and helped his Fighting Irish stay within a point of the Spartans at halftime, trailing 31-30.  The 6'6" junior scored in every imaginable way.  I have seen him enough to know he possesses a soft shooting touch.  In addition to drilling jump shots Saturday, he dunked in traffic, completed three point plays after offensive rebounds, scored in the open court, and handled the ball and created offense against Glenn Hills' 94 feet of pressure defense.  But the Spartans' second half defensive attack slowed Brinson, and he was only able to score one basket after intermission.







While Glenn Hills found its rhythm defensively, holding Aquinas to 17 second half points, Ziaire Cook was consistent throughout the game, scoring 10 points in each half for a team high total of 20.  I asked Will Avery about Cook before the game.  One thing he said was that he is deceptively athletic, that the 6'3" guard will almost casually dunk the ball when he doesn't appear to have that kind of bounce.  After watching him I have a better feel for what Will means.  Like many good players, he makes the game look easy.  He shoots and handles the ball well, and he uses these skills to get where he wants on the court offensively.  He makes shots that college players make, like floaters and left handed finishes.  Cook is averaging 23 points and 6 rebounds per game.







Glenn Hills (5-1) hosts another one loss team, Laney (6-1), Tuesday in both teams' first region contest.  Aquinas (4-2) visits Greenbrier Friday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Alleluia's "homecoming" a success


Highlights from Alleluia's home games last week (scroll down for many more clips)


Alleluia sprinted to its fastest start ever in the season's first ten games, winning nine straight after losing the opener.  And before Tuesday, the team had yet to play in its home gym.  As coach Dennis McBride's team prepared for a four game home stretch, I was anxious to see what the team would do with a home court advantage.  All teams play their best at home.  But Alleluia has always been especially difficult to beat there because the cozy gym puts its highly supportive crowd right on top of the action, and right inside the heads of opposing players.

After jumping out to a quick eight point advantage Tuesday over the formidable Faith Baptist Crusaders, a cold shooting spell at the free throw line (11-24) and difficulty dealing with Faith Baptist's full court pressure resulted in a hard fought 76-68 loss in the season's first home game.  But the Angels bounced back Friday evening with an impressive 83-72 win over Victory Baptist, and scored 50 points in the first half Saturday on the way to an 81-64 win over Sports Academy South.

Sharp shooting guards Ben Dresser (25 points) and Stephen Mulligan (15 points) made a combined nine three pointers in Friday's win.  Junior point guard Mac McBride filled the stat sheet with 14 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals.  And junior forward Hayden Hebert scored 18 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.  The Angels gave its filled-to-capacity home crowd plenty to cheer about Friday, scoring 45 points by halftime and maintaining a 10-20 point advantage throughout the second half.  Tuesday's game against the Augusta Eagles homeschool team, who beat Alleluia in the season opener in the Victory Baptist Tip-Off Tournament, will complete the Angels' four game home stand.

Random Notes

One reason I so enjoy following Alleluia is because I like seeing players and teams that improve a lot over time.  It is not unusual to find these guys in the gym at 5:00 A.M. practicing their ball handling and shooting, at 11 P.M. (during high school basketball season) playing pick up ball, or in the middle of a hot summer's day diving on the floor for a loose ball while playing "21."  (Yes, I do mean during the middle of the summer in Augusta's only gym that still doesn't have air conditioning, and yes people evidently still play 21!)  These guys are old school gym rats.  Heck, I'm told they even play on the outdoor courts on school grounds right off Lumpkin Road.  No wonder I like these guys so much!

Two players who had stellar weeks, and whose progress on the court amazes me, are juniors McBride and Hebert.  There was a time, during off season league play against the area's best guards, when McBride would have trouble handling defensive pressure.  I know because I was the referee he would occasionally appeal to for foul calls when the ball was stolen from him.  He needs no such help from the zebras these days.  After Dresser and Milligan shot Victory Baptist out of its zone Friday, McBride dealt the final blow by picking apart Victory Baptist's man-to-man defense, using his ball handling expertise to beat defenders and finish in the paint and at the free throw line.  He scored 10 of his 14 points, making all six of his free throw attempts, during this fourth quarter segment.

McBride is able to get where he wants on the court off the dribble because he "has the ball on a string," as we used to say.  Throughout the week, he used this ability to create great scoring opportunities by beating the initial defender, drawing a crowd and making the right pass to the right guy, or finishing himself.







One year ago, Hebert was a "big man," although he was no taller than 6'3".  After months/years of honing his fundamental skills, he has proven coach McBride right when he says Hayden is a guard. This week he made shots from deep and scored on floaters and pull up jump shots.  He has always been a good athlete, as was evident by his several blocked shots Friday and his rim rocking dunk Saturday.  But until recently, I haven't seen him make this many impressive plays on the perimeter during game action.  The hours in the gym he spends with his teammates are surely the source of this improvement.







One of the most unique characteristics about this team, and about watching them play in their own gym, is their ability to make deep shots.  Lots of them.  Ben Dresser is a pure shooter.  And in Alleluia's gym, his range legitimately starts just behind half court.  No area player since Westside's Frank Booker, now an Oklahoma Sooner, has earned the kind of green light Dresser has.  His ball handling and shot making skills are solid too.  Only a sophomore, I can't think of an underclassman in this area I would rather have were I a coach.







Dresser is far from the only shooter on the roster.  In fact, no one in the rotation lacks shooting range. Along with McBride and Hebert, seniors Milligan and Abe Dresser (older brother of Ben) and sophomore Elliot Balducci are all threats on the perimeter.  Seniors Billy Conkright and Ryan Wilby add experience, rebounding and skill to the front line, ensuring that this team is much more than only a group long range bombers.






For many reasons, an Alleluia home game is a unique and worthwhile experience for any basketball fan.  The mix and depth of fundamental skills the guys possess is hard to find in high school teams. These features combined with the intimate feel of the gym and the community make this Tuesday's 7:30 P.M. game a hard one for a basketball fan like myself to skip.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Update on VA Tech freshman Ahmed Hill





Ahmed Hill is third on Georgia high school basketball's all time scoring list.  But he never seemed to force things offensively, always finding opportunities within the rhythm of Aquinas' offense.  He even spent much of his senior season facilitating for teammates, playing the role of point guard when the Irish were suddenly left without one.  A level headed student of the game, Ahmed never took plays off and always impressed me with his intangible qualities (effort, communication, and general leadership) almost as much as his physical gifts.


These qualities have served him well during his first month of major college basketball, as he is looking like a long term 30+ minute per game player for the rebuilding Virginia Tech Hokies of the ACC.  Going from shooting frequently and initiating most of his team's offense in high schoo to taking 5-10 shots each game seems to be a transition Hill has no problem executing.  Since the preseason his coach and teammates have praised his work ethic and attitude.  Channelling the size and agility his 6'4" frame brings to relentless defensive pressure, rebounding, and selectively attacking on the offensive end, Ahmed is proving to be a player coach Buzz Williams can't help but keep on the court.


Hill was assigned one of the country's leading scorers, D.J. Newbill, in a recent narrow loss to Penn State in the ACC-Big East Challenge on ESPN.  Playing as one of four guards in the Hokies' perimeter oriented attack, Hill grabbed a team high 10 rebounds and barely missed a long three at the buzzer to tie the game.  


I don't mean to say Hill is not involved in the offense.  He is averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds per game, he is shooting 40% from three point land, and he has scored 9 or more points in 4 of his first 8 games.  More than anything, I am happy for Ahmed, a young man of rock solid character, for finding such a great fit so early in his college basketball playing days.  Because he is this entrenched in the Hokies' rotation this early, and because he has made himself valuable without scoring in bunches, I think it is only a matter of time before he starts scorching the nets from deep, making his mid range jump shots, and regularly getting to the foul line.  He is in what may prove to be a perfect position for an incoming freshman.  He is one of 3 freshmen in the current starting lineup, playing for a coach who hand picked him and who is beginning from scratch with his new team.

I predict Ahmed will keep hustling, defending, rebounding, selectively picking his scoring spots, and most importantly, playing heavy minutes.  And when all this experience he's gaining gives him the confidence and comfort level to let it fly, he probably won't score as many major college buckets as he did in high school.  But he will make more than his fair share.


***Here are some posts from the past about Hill and his former Southern Stampede AAU teammates***

Nov 20, 2014
Stoman's Still a Winner

Nov 12, 2012
Marcus Stroman: True Point Guard, True Leader

Dec 9, 2012
Ahmed Hill Backs Up Statement

July 19, 2012
Stampede Opens Peach Jam with Win

Thursday, December 11, 2014

GRU's senior trio has big impact during road trip





The winner of 7 of its first 8 games, GRU Augusta recently claimed the #25 spot in the National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA Division II Basketball Rankings.  After the team made what seemed like every shot they took in the first four games at home, the Jags’ trio of seniors, Devon Wright-Nelson, Devonte Thomas, and D’Angelo Boyce, have since provided much needed leadership in helping GRU take 3 of 4 road games.


Thomas has scored over 17 ppg and made 45% of his threes during this stretch.  He has also gotten to the free throw line 16 times on the road trip (versus 6 times in the four game stretch at home), implying that he has been more aggressive.  Wright-Nelson’s 13 ppg average on the road has come with lights out shooting statistics:  21-38 from the field and 5-6 from three point land.  And Boyce’s 10 ppg during the road stretch has come with similarly stellar efficiency:  12-20 from the field and 6-8 from deep.


It is fitting that these three were the Jags’ leading scorers (15 points each) in the most recent road game, an 83-54 win against Bowie State, which is less than an hour from the home of these seniors.  Bowie State was originally scheduled to visit Augusta this season.  But I understand coach Dip Metress made the commendable move of traveling to Maryland to give the guys a chance to play in front of family and friends one more time.  Over 60 of these supporters came to the game, and coach Metress presented a game ball to Wright-Nelson in an impromptu ceremony, recognizing his recently passing the 1000 career point barrier.

The Jags are back in action Thursday, December 18, at 11 A.M. at home versus conference foe Georgia Southwestern.  Go support the Jags and treat yourself to the best basketball in town.  And follow JaguarsRoar.com and the various GRU athletic accounts on social media.  This is how I learned about the special ties between the Bowie State trip and the three seniors, as well as Dip’s presenting the game ball to Wright-Nelson.


***Here are some posts from the past about the GRU Augusta Jaguars***

Dec 5, 2014
Throwback Thursday:  Jags Sophomore Sensations (25 years removed)

Dec 4, 2014
GRU Impressive in City Classic Win at Paine

Nov 28, 2014
GRU's Statistical Wonders

Nov 15, 2014
Sherrill drops 37 in GRU's Opening Win

Nov 12, 2014
Another Exciting Year Ahead for GRU Augusta

Nov 13, 2013
This Week in Jags Hoops: Episode 2

Nov 5, 2013
One of the Greatest Jags

Oct 27, 2013
This Week in Jags Hoops: Episode 1

Oct 25, 2013
GRU Pep Rally: Dip Baby Dip

Jan 12, 2013
Jags Top Armstrong

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Miller makes game winner versus Coast Guard





Learning by doing is often the only way to truly learn anything.  Former GAIS Eagle Matt Miller and his United States Merchant Marines Academy (USMMA) teammates are learning to win, one game at a time. The Mariners fell just short in overtime Saturday against Susquehanna.  And trailing rival Coast Guard 45-44 with 5:18 remaining Tuesday, Matt’s Mariners looked vulnerable.  But Miller scored 5 points in the final minutes, including a put back of his own miss with 1.3 seconds remaining to clinch the USMMA victory.


The win was only the second of the season for the Mariners (2-6).  But the young team is showing signs of having success in the future.  Successful teams deal well with adversity.  In Saturday’s contest, USMMA led conference foe Susquehanna 70-67 on the final possession. A Mariner fouled a three point shooter with 1 second remaining, and the Mariners eventually lost in overtime.  In an interview played before the live stream of Tuesday’s game, head coach Steve Hayn talked about how proud he was of his team for the way they played Saturday.  This forward looking mentality is likely where Matt has gotten his optimistic outlook on the team’s future.  In texts and calls, it is clear he is focused on winning and growing as a teammate on a successful team.


This mindset had to come in handy last night when a red hot USMMA squad that had built a 32-15 first half lead suddenly found itself trailing late in the game.  Rather than succumbing to the moment, Andrew Williams made 4 of 4 free throws and Miller drained a jumper off the dribble to give the Mariners a 49-47 lead before his last second heroics.  The team may not have handled the moment so well if not for Saturday’s disappointment and for coach Hayn’s guidance afterwards.

The team’s trio of leading scorers are young.  All perimeters players, Miller (13.8 ppg) is a sophomore, David Smith (13.4 ppg) a junior, and Robbie Kennedy (13 ppg) a freshman.  Before breaking for Christmas, USMMA next plays a pair of 4 P.M. road games this Saturday and Sunday at Elizabethtown and Scranton, respectively.


***Here are some posts from the past about Matt Miller, his former GAIS Eagles, and USMMA***

Nov 24, 2014
Matt Miller Finds the Right Fit

Nov 19, 2014
Miller Returns from Sea and Hits the Courts

Jan 7, 2014
Miller's Career High 20 Points not Enough in 81-69 Loss to Stevens
from USMMASports.com

Nov 21, 2013
Former Eagle Matt Miller Passes His First Test

Sept 16, 2013
Wise Beyond His Years

Dec 17, 2012
GAIS' Guard Combo - Miller and Crown

March 20, 2012
Crown and Miller Named NCHBC All-Americans

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Laney's Secret Sauce: Playing Harder (easier said than done)

Watching Laney beat the nation's #22 ranked team, Pebblebrook, made me think about the most important thing a coach can teach his team to do:  play hard.  It sounds simple and unexciting. But five guys who constantly work together and give maximum effort in every phase of the game will maximize whatever talent level the team has.  I bet 80% of everything I ever taught the teams I coached had something to do with playing hard:  sprinting back and communicating on defense, working together to keep the ball out of the paint, making the opponent take a contested jump shot on the move, blocking out and "gang rebounding" the miss, then working together as a unit to get the type of shot that we wanted.  There were two reasons I spent virtually all my time teaching these things:

1)  Before the team can do this better than anyone else, it is a waste of time to work on other things.
2)  My teams were never able to master these practices.  I've always believed no team truly can.

Buck Harris' Laney Wildcats may prove me wrong!  They certainly looked like experts Saturday, holding the team everybody has said is the best in Georgia and one of the best in the country to 59 points, 25 points below the average in its five prior games.  Pebblebrook features future Clemson point guard, Ty Hudson (senior); future UGA center Derek Ogbeide (senior); and one of the state's best scorers, Jared Harper (junior).  The team's offensive production and ball movement has been likened to a high school version of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs by some Atlanta based high school basketball "hoop-heads."

Enter the magic of "playing hard."  The Wildcats swarmed Pebblebrook all over the court after Laney's makes, misses, and turnovers.  Most teams would give up far too many layups and easy scoring opportunities playing the type of defense Laney plays.  There are sometimes three Laney players around the ball in the back court.  But when EVERYBODY on the roster "flies around" to help each other fill holes on EVERY PLAY, exceptional things can happen.  Like holding Pebblebrook to 7 third quarter points.

Many have credited Laney's success to Harris' willingness to play anybody, anytime.  I have too. Hoopseen.com ranks the state's teams without regard to classification.  By season's end, Laney, currently ranked 5th in the poll, will have played five of the teams (see below for dates/results of these games) that were ranked in the top ten at the beginning of the season.  But I believe the success the team had against Pebblebrook has way more to do with the kind of effort the players have learned to give on every possession of every game and practice, whether during a high profile "showcase" game in November, a region battle, a post season tournament contest, or a summer league matchup. This strength travels well and can be called upon whether or not shots are falling or balls are bouncing the way Laney fans would like.  Harris is smart for making "playing hard" a requirement to be a Wildcat, and for teaching his players how to do it.








Random notes from Laney's victory over Pebblebrook in the Nike Explosion at Wheeler High:

Laney is not a physically imposing group.  Playing against a long, athletic zone anchored by the 6'9" Ogbeide, the guys put on a clinic for finding scoring opportunities with ball movement, pass fakes, and dribble penetration that led to open jump shots.  Collin Young, Zep Jasper, Christian Keeling, and Jashawn Brooks finished the job by making those shots.  This was crucial because scoring opportunities at the rim were few and far between.







Laney's "flying around" style of defense gave Pebblebrook sharpshooter Jared Harper a few deep looks in Saturday's first half.  He took advantage.  Harris made an adjustment at halftime that resulted in Pebblebrook scoring only 23 second half points.  Buck gives credit to Zep Jasper for his defense on Harper during the second half.  This was only one aspect of Jasper's almost flawless floor game Saturday.  He also quarterbacked Laney's attack of the Pebblebrook zone, made timely threes, and controlled the ball and the clock during the game's final minutes while Laney had a slight cushion.






Collin Young and Jashawn Brooks made huge shots in Laney's season opening 67-64 loss to #18 (nationally) Saint Francis.  Young scorched the nets Saturday again Saturday, making (by my count) 6 jump shots to punish the Pebblebrook zone.  And Brooks' two mid range jump shots and two made free throws in the fourth quarter helped Laney maintain its lead late.  But a fourth Wildcat (Jasper being the third), Christian Keeling, made timely jumpers Saturday, including one on the left baseline to close the third quarter and give his team its first lead of the afternoon.  Keeling lives in the paint and on the free throw line offensively.  His jump shot looks better all the time.  Adding a consistent outside stroke to his tool kit gives Laney four (and counting) perimeter threats to go with front liners Jaylen Taylor, Jervon Walker, and Daniel Chisolm.






Buck is to be commended for his trust in EVERYBODY on the Laney roster.  Two consecutive Saturdays, Laney got game changing contributions from players who are not always a part of the main rotation.  Donald Henley got the "AugBball game ball" in the win over defending state champ Morgan County.  In the win over Pebblebrook, Rico Merriweather and Tyqwan Wilson each made timely baskets to help keep Laney within striking distance in the first half.

Jaylen Taylor effectively neutralized the 6'9" Ogbeide in the second half.  And his two handed, off-the-stride dunk in the first half has had the internet buzzing ever since Saturday!







Laney versus the state's best teams (according to Hoopseen.com):

Nov 15:  Laney 64, Saint Francis 67
Nov 29:  Laney 71, Morgan County 67 (OT)
Dec 6:  Laney 65, Pebblebrook 59
Dec 13:  Laney vs Norcross (4:30 P.M. at Greater Atlanta Chr. in Blue Collar Basketball Showcase)
Jan 3:  Laney vs Jenkins (6:00 P.M. at Laney)
Jan 10:  Laney vs Morgan County (7:30 P.M. at Morgan County)

***Here are posts from the past about Laney***

Dec 1, 2014
Laney Beats Morgan County at Home

Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament

Nov 16, 2014
Laney falls short in season opening thriller

Nov 11, 2014
Laney Opens Season with Nationally Ranked St. Francis

July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off

Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement

March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History

Also, AugBball's social media accounts are packed with highlights, commentary, and general celebration from Saturday's win over Pebblebrook.  Here are the locations for these accounts:

Facebook.com/AugBball

Twitter.com/AugBball or search @AugBball on Twitter

Instagram.com/AugBball or search @AugBball on Instagram

Finally, SUVtv 's full broadcast of the Laney-Pebblebrook game can be seen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4vgeEKZoo8&list=TLBjY5e8Ue0NY

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rod Hall leads Clemson to Overtime win over #18 Arkansas

Clemson's won-loss results have been downright inconsistent these first eight games.  Although the Tigers got a quality neutral court win against LSU, losses to Gardner Webb, Winthrop, and Rutgers (the latter mentioned two at home) have been disappointing.  Judging from coach Brad Brownell and players' comments after the loss to Rutgers last Monday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a lack of toughness, effort and leadership were the culprits.


I'll never be one to doubt the leadership of senior point guard, team leader, Augusta native, and good friend Rod Hall.  Playing Sunday with a slight limp due to the lingering effects of an ankle sprain suffered ten days ago during the first possession of a win against High Point, Rod played an impeccable floor game Sunday to lead the Tigers to a come-from-behind, overtime home win over the nation's 18th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.


Game Analysis


The game was certainly Clemson's best performance of the season.  Hall's too.  Clemson got off to a fast start in which 6'7" freshman forward Donte Grantham, 6’7” sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame, and 6'11" center Landry Nnoko carried the scoring load.  Rod and fellow senior Demarcus Harrison did a great job helping to establish Nnoko as a low post scoring threat, feeding him with on time and on target passes so he could do what he does best, turn over either shoulder and finish jump hooks in close.


Grantham, who seems to have a bright future as a Tiger, was the recipient of good looks at the basket early as a result of the crowd Nnoko drew in the post.  He did a great job taking advantage of the situation, scoring from deep, driving to the rim, crashing the offensive boards, and finishing in the open court.  While playing the role of facilitator the entire first half, Hall's only clean look at the basket came on a nice feed by Nnoko on a post double.  The big center spotted Rod on the opposite wing and he buried his first three point attempt to give Clemson a 29-20 advantage.








The Razorbacks then had success slowing down Clemson's inside attack with full court pressure.  Rod's job got much more difficult from that point forward.  Clemson has a long and athletic frontline, and senior shooting guard Demarcus Harrison can stroke it from deep.  But only Rod, and possibly the freshman Grantham, looked comfortable against Arkansas' pressure.  He handled it well.  But by extending Clemson's offense and forcing them to use so much time and energy protecting against turnovers, Arkansas effectively took Nnoko out of the game for a while.


After Clemson's lead vanished in the second half, Hall went from simply handling the full court pressure to exploiting it by splitting double teams, getting into the paint, finding teammates for easy looks, and eventually going on a scoring tear himself.  He drove and scored at the rim midway through the second half. Then he made an especially gutty play, splitting the double team and dropping in a giant killing floater over a taller Arkansas defender to cut the Razorback lead to 3 with 8:09 left to play.  Rod was not the only Tiger making plays.  Senior Demarcus Harrison made a timely three to keep the Tigers within 4 with 5:32 remaining.  And Jaron Blossingame followed that with a thunderous dunk after driving through the teeth of the Razorbacks' defense to pull within 2 at the 4:31 mark.








After scoring only one point (a Hall free throw) the next 3:35, Clemson trailed 57-51 after a Bobby Portis runner with less than a minute remaining.  The next 90 seconds, including the first possession of an eventual overtime period, belonged to Rod Hall.  The senior from Augusta way into the paint, willing in a short jumper in the paint and soon after stole a pass and scored over a Razorback defender at the rim, cutting the Arkansas lead to 2.  The Tigers would then force a steal with less than 15 seconds remaining, and Blossomgame converted a layup after a feed from Harrison in transition to send the game into overtime.


Hall established the tone for overtime during the extra period's first possession.  He dribbled out most of the the shot clock before drilling a rhythm dribble three in the face of an Arkansas defender before draining all four of his free throw attempts to eventually ice the Clemson victory. Rod was the leading scorer and he posted an insanely efficient stat line:  19 points on 6-9 shooting, including 2-3 from deep and 5-6 from the free throw line!


Eventually coming full circle back to what worked so well in the game's opening minutes, the Tigers took their biggest lead since the first half after Nnoko patiently worked in the post, drew multiple defenders, and found Blossomgame for a two handed dunk that put Clemson ahead for good 66-60.







Sure enough, weighing Clemson's losses to Winthrop, Gardner-Webb and Rutgers with its wins against LSU and Arkansas paints a picture of early season inconsistency.  And coach Brownell is right in holding senior leaders Hall and Harrison accountable.  I believe effort and mental and physical toughness are not the culprits.  In Clemson's methodical system of limiting possessions and staying in games with defense, it has taken time to establish ways to score points.  Nnoko has been a steady source of productivity.  Although Hall's season statistics have been superb (12 ppg* on 53% FG and 62% 3pt FG), I had not seen him consistently take responsibility for the team's offensive opportunities before Sunday.


The Tigers have been one of the country's best defensive teams for a while now.  If they continue to find consistent sources of offense, our guy Rod may be able to reach his first NCAA tournament in March.  And if that comes to be, it will be largely because of his contributions.  And that is very exciting!


A hole may have been dug with early season losses.  But Sunday's win against a nationally ranked opponent can be the first step in figuring out how to be a legitimate competitor in the country's best league, the ACC. For the time being, the Tigers will try to continue its roll against SEC teams this Sunday in a home game against Auburn and next Friday on the road at South Carolina.


*The 12 ppg reference removes the 0 point outing recorded in the High Point game.  Rod only played one possession that game after spraining his ankle.  Clemson’s official stats show him averaging over 10 ppg because that game is factored into the official scoring totals.

***Here are some posts from the pasts about Rod Hall and his Clemson Tigers***

Nov 17, 2014
Hall has it all figured out

Nov 10, 2014
Rod Hall Explodes Late in Exhibition Opener

March 31, 2014
Michaux: Ex-Laney star Rod Hall helps light fire under Clemson basketball team
from the Augusta Chronicle

Nov 25, 2013

Rod Hall Jr. is on the Right Track