After an 81-67 victory over the Tennessee Prep Diplomats, silky-shooter and senior forward Micah Thomas received an offer to play collegiately at Louisville University. The Irish and a potential future Cardinal flew high again, but it took some extra effort to soar over the defense in this game.
Leading Huntington Prep in scoring was senior forward Miles Bridges with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
This was followed by terrific efforts from junior guard Onuralp Bitim with 17 points and six rebounds, junior forward Trace Young with 14 points, senior guard Curtis Jones with nine points and four rebounds, senior combo guard Ivan Gandia with eight points, Thomas with five points, sophomore guard Jonathan Kabongo with four points and two steals, senior guard Luka Petrovic with three points and junior forward Boko Mupungu with two points.
“Sometimes we played normally, but it wasn’t how we usually play,” Bitim said. “We started very badly and it wasn’t our best.”
“We played pretty good ball,” Gandia said. “Sometimes we played well, but sometimes we didn’t because we got too comfortable with the lead.”
“We came out slow and sluggish,” Young said. “We need to pick it up next game if we want to win.”
The word sluggish encapsulates the first 4:33 of the opening quarter perfectly. No diplomacy was shown from Tennessee Prep, who came out and hit the Fighting Irish in the mouth with a 1-2-2 zone, a 3-2, 2-3 zone switch, good boxing-out and successful mid-range shooting. When 4:33 passed, the score was 14-2 in the Diplomats’ favor.
Prep fought back and narrowed the gap to four points with Tennessee Prep leading 15-11 after the first quarter. At 7:20 in the second quarter, Bridges yelled, “take that”, at Jones in their man-to-man defense. The whole team had to hear it because the Irish took advantage of nearly every miscue and outscored their opponent 26-13 in the second to lead 37-28 at the half.
10 of the 14 points sixth/seventh man Trace Young scored came in the second quarter. In a previous game, Jones yelled for Young to shoot it without hesitation. Young nailed the corner three in that game and he did so in this one, twice. Sometimes for a player to go off, it’s not just circumstantial based on how the offense is running.
“I just had more confidence today,” Young said. “Coach has been encouraging me to shoot the ball more, so I came out, shot and it worked.”
After the half, the Diplomats employed their 1-2-2 against an Irish team that played four out, one in, with the one being Bridges. With 38.6 seconds left in the third quarter and the score at 51-44, Huntington Prep began to consistently find ways to break through the zone and score around it. As the outside shots fell, Tennessee Prep played more man-to-man defense. The Irish outscored the Diplomats 13-3 in the opening two minutes of the fourth and held on for the victory.
After the game, Prep didn’t correlate any zone with the opening hole they were put in, but the team either believed it was due to the timeliness of when the outside shooting would work, or a simple case of the slow-starts.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened,” Young said. “All I know is that we can’t come out like this again. We have to pick it up.”
“I don’t think any zone affected us,” Gandia said. “Everybody on the team can shoot and we’re all really good. We just try to make every team get out of the zone with our shooting and make us play man to man.”
Even after a double-digit winning performance against an experienced program that helps post-grad players develop, some Huntington Prep players still feel there’s much left to learn if they want to win the national championship, or even a state title.
“I still don’t we’re not fully ready,” Bitim said. “But we’re very hard workers. This year we want to win the state championship and go further, so right now we’re a good team, but I think we’ll be a very, very good team soon.”
Huntington Prep will play Mount Mission (VA) on Tuesday in Grundy, Virginia. Tip-off starts at 7:00 pm.