Happy Holidays everyone! I write this entry on Christmas Day, enjoying some relaxation time with my family. I feel blessed in many ways...not only with my own family, but with 13 young men who have worked hard to be 4-0 heading into the break.
Heading into week two of the season, we hosted St. Clair and Marysville. As you all know, we were coming off an extreme emotional high after beating Warren Mott at their gym the previous Friday. Many of you may recall that last season we opened up at St. Clair and were beaten at the buzzer in overtime...a heartbreaking loss to begin the season. It was after that loss that I realized the importance of preparedness. Because it was the first game of the season last year and I was new to the league, we had no film on St. Clair and no idea of anything they would do. We simply were not prepared. Had I been able to better prepare the team for that game, we win by 10. That said, we have film on everyone this season and we began the week watching film on St. Clair. We quickly discovered that they live and die with the 3 point shot. On the film we had, they shot 25 three's and were definitely capable of hitting a majority of them if left open. We focused on that in practice and made sure we dialed up our defensive intensity on the perimeter and harrassed their shooters. We did a decent job early on guarding shooters and jumped out to a 13-2 lead. But any good coach and team will adjust when they are down and they added a perimeter screen from their big man and St. Clair's best shooter proceeded to knock down 3 consecutive threes to cut it to 13-11. After a heated timeout, we closed the period out on a 6-0 run to finish the 1st quarter 19-11. Unfortunately we could not shake them and we only led 27-24 at the half.
The focus of my pregame and halftime speeches revolved around the word "letdown". After a big win like we had, playing a team not as talented, there is plenty of possibility for a letdown. These kinds of games are trap games and last year we let them get to us. We would beat the best team in the league then lose to the worst. These kids cannot do that. We cannot have letdowns if we want to be champions. Coming out of the locker room, the kids responded. We jumped on them and did it quickly and aggressively. We held them to 4 points in the 3rd quarter and scored 19 ourselves to blow the game wide open heading into the 4th. Overall, we outscored them 33-14 in the 2nd half and won 60-38. I was happy to see the kids respond and do what we did not do last year...close a team out big! We must have that mentality and continue to ratchet up our effort so teams know that they are in for a dogfight.
Joe Baker had a big first half for us and ended the half with 22 points on 5 three pointers. He finished with 27 pts and 9 rebounds. Rob Feeman chipped in with 11 points and 5 rebounds, Garrett Matthews - 8 pts, Dom Davis - 5 pts, Steve O'connell - 3 pts, Tyler Marwin - 2 pts, Steve Hoffman - 3 pts, Aaron Schachinger - 1 pt.
After the St. Clair win, we had one day to turn around and prepare for Marysville, a team that beat us by 25 at their place last year. I spoke to the kids about heading into the break 4-0 and having many days of rest ahead of them, hoping they would jump on Marysville early and get out on a high note. We did just that, holding a 16-8 advantage after the 1st quarter and heading into halftime up 36-14, after outscoring them 20-6 in the 2nd. When you are up big like that at halftime, it is often a hard speech to give in the locker room. The kids see themselves up 22 and on pace to put up 70+, all the while holding a team under 20 in a half and are thinking they are playing the game of their lives. Believe it or not, and this may be hard to believe, I felt like our effort was around 80%. I do not want to sound unappreciative of what they were doing, but I know this group and I knew they had a lot left in the tank. So we tried to challenge them to find that and remember what this team did to us last season. The kids didn't completely respond to that but they did what they had to do and won the game 67-44. It was a good win and again, a win we had to have and should have.
During our gameplanning process, we discovered that they were not good ball handlers at all and wanted to really put as much pressure on their guards as possible. We knew they wouldn't do that well if we did that. With that said, we decided to change our starting lineup a bit and go with a smaller, quicker starting five so we could maximize our pressure. We were able to do that because of their lack of interior presence or threats. We started Matt Cawley in place of James Steffen and whether that worked or not, I'm not completely sure, but I definitely think it gave us a little spark in the first quarter.
Dominic Davis is our best perimeter defender and can really make it difficult on opposing guards when he wants to. It isn't easy to constantly be the guy who has to guard the other team's best player but the beauty of Dom is that he wants to. He happily accepts that challenge each game and that is what is called "accepting your role". Dom has many roles but that is his most important to this team and he does a very good job of it. It does not often get recognized but it is arguably the most appreciated by a coach. For example, versus Marysville, Dominic had to guard Matt Dado who averages 17 points per game and shoots the ball about 60% of Marysville's possessions. At halftime, Dado had 0 points. If you are wondering how we got up by 22 at the half, that is a big reason why. If Dado doesn't score for Marysville, they lose. Dom did his job great!
Joe had another big game and if it weren't for being up so big in the 4th and him not playing almost all of that quarter, he would have scored 40...he finished with 29 pts and 6 rebounds. Rob Feeman had 10 pts and 6 rebounds, Dominic Davis - 8 pts, Steve O'connell - 8 pts, Garrett Matthews - 4 pts, Steve Hoffman - 3 pts, Aaron Schachinger - 2 pts, Tyler Marwin - 2 pts, Cody Lehman - 1 pt.
After 3 games, are stats are as follows:
Overall field goal % = 40%
Three point field goal % = 34%
Free Throw % = 77%
Our overall FG% needs to get to 45%. Our 3 pt% is pretty good (considering we were 2-18 in our first game...eek!), any team who shoots 35-40% as a team is doing ok. 77% from the free throw line is great! That will win you games...which it already has against Mott. It is very important. If we can keep that over 70% for the season, that would be a dream come true. We still have plenty of work to do, but we're doing ok.
Joe Baker - 23.25 pts per game (50% FG, 34% 3's & 85% FT) - 8 rebs per game
Rob Feeman - 8.25 pts per game - 4.5 rebounds per game
Garrett Matthews - 6.5 pts per game
Dom Davis - 6 pts per game
Tyler Marwin - 3 pts per game
Steve O'connell - 3 pts per game
James Steffen - 4.5 rebounds per game
I am incredibly proud of what the kids have done thus far. Right now, MLive.com has them ranked 18th in the state in Class B. Things like that are exciting to see and these kids deserve it. Now is where things get a little tougher. We play Cranbrook in our own Christmas Tourney at 5:30 on Tuesday the 29th. On the other side of the tournament you have two tough teams in Shrine and Hazel Park. We will have to play well to beat any of those three teams. After the tournament we jump right into conference play hosting Lamphere on January 6. Many picked Lamphere over us in the conference and they have one of the leagues best players in Kelvin Toma, who scored 43 pts in a game last week. They are better than what we have seen and will pose a great challenge for us. I am excited to get back at it and truly see where we are at. We have the ability to win the tournament and head into the new year 6-0, but we'll need our best effort. The kids will be rested and hopefully their best is what we will get from them.
Thank you all for your support and have a wonderful holiday!