*This section consists of two stories. Stats separate the games played at the Invitational (28th and 30th of Jan.)*
January 28th vs Atlantic Shores (VA). Win 82-65.
At 1:06 in the first quarter, senior Curtis Jones maybe had one of the easiest assists of his young basketball career.
With no play-call necessary because of lackadaisical defense from Atlantic Shores, sophomore Jonathan Kabongo was wide open for a corner three despite being just three feet away from Jones. This made it 24-8 and Shores only cut the lead to single digits once outside of the first quarter.
Huntington Prep started the game with man-to-man defense, and the Seahawks played a slow, methodical offense. With two men switching from corner to corner, the center and guards interchanged positions at the top and within the key with screens and seemed to always seek for an open mid-range jump shot.
The Irish of Huntington, in turn, played their usual spread offense and was majorly successful, but senior and future NBA lottery pick Miles Bridges was kept at bay in the first half with traps in the corner and was held to eight points. Nonetheless, the game was won with a lopsided rebounding margin, 11 team steals and a pivotal third quarter where the Seahawks score only nine points in eight minutes.
“At first we were going to zone them just to see if they would shoot the ball,” sophomore Arvin Dhillon said. “When they started missing, we continued to do it and that’s what led to the low-scoring third quarter.”
The Irish forced the Seahawks further from their comfort zone in the mid-range game and relied on fouls and offensive rebounds for those nine points. On their way to an 82-65 victory, visions of a good win were forced from the heads of Prep, as the fourth-quarter, where they were outscored 25-18, took over instead. In fact, letting up like this led one player into reminiscence of past losses.
“I think we played alright,” senior Luka Petrovic said. “We had a good game and we won easily, but when the game was ending we slowed down. That’s how we started losing games earlier in the season. I think we just need to play hard the entire time.”
Similar reactions to the win could be found throughout the locker room. The key word of the night: alright.
We played alright,” Dhillon said. “We just need to work on finishing the game.”
Junior and Turkish phenom Onuralp Bitim shared some insight as to why they felt their play was in a mediocre state relative to the standards they expect from themselves.
“We played alright,” Bitim said. “We could definitely play better. We’re very tired, but at least we won the game. We’ve just been working too hard sometimes.”
Counting practices, Huntington Prep’s fatigue could be chalked up to the six games they played from Jan. 8-18. However, there’s still an ultimate goal to be had, so a Thursday game didn’t stop them from practicing on Friday for Saturday’s match-up against St. Louis Christian (MO).
“We still have nationals in our minds, so we’ll be more prepared for Saturday,” Bitim said.
Curtis Jones (Game MVP) – 18 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals.
Miles Bridges – 18 points, 5 assists, 12 rebounds, 2 steals.
Onuralp Bitim – 14 points, assist, 8 rebounds.
Jonathan Kabongo – 15 points, rebound, steal.
Micah Thomas, senior – 4 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks.
Ivan Gandia, senior – 11 points, assist, 3 rebounds.
Luka Petrovic – 2 points, 2 assists, 4 rebounds, steal.
Maurice Calloo, sophomore – 2 rebounds
January 30th vs. St. Louis Christian (MO). Win 75-60.
In one of their more slower-paced halves of the year, Huntington Prep once again showed that after close openings, they know what they have to do coming out of halftime.
The first half ended 32-28, but six missed free throws from the Irish could’ve extended that lead even more. Right out of the gate, St. Louis threw a 1-2-2 defense at Prep to take away their outside shooting. Unfortunately for them, a lack of individual pressure and rotation that was unable to keep up with the Jones/Bridges tandem (22 of the 32 first half points) and the 1-2-2 diminished to occasional uses. In fact there was such a lack of pressure, Cougar head coach Casey Autenrieth yelled, “put some pressure on him,” toward the direction of his point guard and Jones.
“I thought we had a pretty decent first half,” Autenrieth said. “We made a couple mistakes and that we really could’ve had the lead after the first half. Coming out of the third quarter, we just really didn’t come out to play. With a team that has so much scoring power, you can’t give them any time off. They can fill it up quick and that’s what happened.”
Prep bested their terrific defensive third quarter on the 28th by allowing just eight points in this one. On their second game in a row with such a feat, Huntington Prep head coach Arkell Bruce describes the process as a coast, then knockout. However, the former is done inadvertently and needs to be worked on.
“It’s the same old stuff,” Bruce said. “Just telling them to come out with energy. Go out hard in the first four minutes and try to knock them out because they have quit in them. I want to stress to them that it’s not about X’s and O’s. With us, we want to get stops and not have to run our offense.”
The majority of the Cougar’s first half points came from great isolation moves and offensive rebounds. After Huntington Prep came out with energy, boxing out was no longer an issue and what was supposed to be a basketball game turned into a track meet. So many dimes were dropped in the fast break that an actual one had to be picked up off the court. The Irish outscore their opponents 24-8 in the third quarter.
“I don’t think we were patient enough on offense,” Autenrieth said. “We wanted to limit their possessions and we didn’t do a good job of it. We need to limit possessions and not allow a team to dictate the pace by taking bad shots. That led to fast breaks and stagnation on defense.”
Though the game was won 75-60, reoccurring themes partially shadowed success for the second game in a row: starting off slow and not finishing strong. Prep was outscored 24-19 in the fourth-quarter.
“We’re just being lackadaisical,” Bruce said. “We watch film and they (Prep) think they’re better than the other team. It’s becoming a bad habit that we’re starting to have. Instead of playing hard all the time, they come out, see who they’re playing and know that they’re better than them. They come out and coast instead of putting the other team in their place. They have to learn to have more of a killer’s instinct.”
After being host to the five-day Huntington Invitational, Bruce was pleased, but look for them to play teams with more notoriety next year.
“I just want to get more butts in the seats,” Bruce said. “We’ll have better match-ups next year to get more butts in the seats.”
Huntington Prep (22-7) has now won four in a row and eight of their last nine games after dropping four close games from late December to early January. Their next game will be against Sunrise Christian (MO) at the Bluegrass Classic in Lexington, KY. Tip-off is at 6:00 PM on Super Bowl Sunday.
Miles Bridges – 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks.
Curtis Jones – 27 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, block.
Onuralp Bitim – 4 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal.
Micah Thomas – 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, block.
Ivan Gandia – 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, steal.
Luka Petrovic – 4 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, steal.
Maurice Calloo – 2 points, assist, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, steal.