During yet another fast-break possession for the Wildcats of Evelyn Mack Academy (Charlotte, North Carolina), senior Huntington Prep guard Luka Petrovic hustled mightily to block the opposing guards shot attempt. However, the block didn’t reset the possession. Instead, the ball softly fell into the palms of an Evelyn Mack forward for an easy lay-up; something that was all too common for the Wildcats.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
On a night where senior guard Curtis Jones (Indiana U), senior forward Miles Bridges (Michigan State) and sophomore guard Jonathan Kabongo rested for future play, Prep pushed first and second scoring-option reliance on players unfamiliar with the role.
Starting the game in place of Jones and Bridges was veteran Petrovic and sophomore forward Maurice Calloo, a transfer that’s still acclimating with the system.
Without the two future Big Ten stars, Prep was limited in its high screen game, often favoring corner three attempts, unusually scarce fast-break opportunities and isolation plays from junior Onuralp Bitim (second-best player out of Turkey with Georgia Tech offer) and senior Micah Thomas (Louisville/Maryland).
But none of this takes away from the play of Evelyn Mack.
“Offensively, we were really solid today,” Evelyn Mack head coach Jamie Foster said. “We do a lot of of screen-roll action type of plays because our big guys are really good shooters from the outside. That’s why we do a lot of screen and pop action; to try to get the big guys from underneath the basket so our guards could take advantage of it.”
The Wildcats ran isolation plays for their guards in the first quarter, played with a high post and a low-post player on the right side and two wing players to the left in the second quarter, then ran a versatile five-out offense in the second-half.
Aside from the offense ran in the first quarter, Evelyn Mack often forced Huntington Prep’s guards into the post and out-rebounded them to the point where Bridges checked himself into the game with 3:02 left in the third-quarter.
Despite only playing 11:02, Bridges finished with five rebounds, second on the team for the night.
“We switched up the plays a lot,” Foster said. “We ran multiple plays and it was the first time in a long time that we ran six to seven plays throughout the game. We were switching sides and doing little things like that. That really helped us out because we got easy baskets.”
“That was about the best game we’ve had as far as rebounding,” Foster said. “We did really well tonight.”
Bridges’ self-substitution made an immediate impact, bringing a much needed rebounding and fast-break presence while helping cut a 12-point deficit down to six with 2:32 left in the fourth-quarter.
Alas, with only 11 minutes of play, momentum could not be gained as he couldn’t get his shot going. Prep also tried to run traps in order to get quick buckets, but that just lead to double-teams that were ironically advantageous to the Wildcats which led to more close-ranged baskets.
“I thought we played really well,”Foster said. “I thought we played pretty good on defense, though we could’ve been better at times.”
This is an especially surprising quote, considering that after gaining a 9-7 lead at 4:49 of the first quarter, they never relented or relinquished their lead.
The loss dropped Huntington Prep to 27-10 on the season. With one more home game to play on March 3, this will be Huntington Prep’s toughest and longest schedule of the program’s history.
Onuralp Bitim – 22, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Micah Thomas – 17, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 1 steal
Ivan Gandia, senior – 13, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal
Miles Bridges (played 11:02) – 6, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 3 steals
Maurice Calloo – 6, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal
Luka Petrovic – 4, 2 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 block, 3 steals.
David Bea-Mulumba – 3 points.