A packed house at Sussex Central High School certainly got their money’s worth on Tuesday, Feb. 2, when the Indian River and Central basketball squads went down to the final minute of their annual rivalry matchup, with the Golden Knights eventually locking a 51-42 win.
IR junior guard Mac Smith gave the Indians a 3-2 lead early on after draining a shot from downtown, with the Golden Knights sparking an 8-0 rally after that, to go up 10-4.
The Indians would put together their own rally to tie the game at 10-10, just before the end of the first quarter, however, starting with senior forward DeAndre “D.D.” Cooper pulling down an offensive rebound and drawing the foul to pull off the “and one’ play and make it 10-7, with senior forward Barry Hooper knocking down a three to then tie it up.
“It got everybody pumped. I think everybody played better,” Cooper said of the electric atmosphere. “It was a fun game. That’s my favorite team to play.”
“I said, ‘It’s a rivalry. If you can’t get up for this game, you can’t get up for any game,’” added IR head coach B.J. Joseph.
The second quarter was a different story, however, as Central jumped out to a 20-10 lead, and guards KiAnté Sturgis and Lashawn Hondy continued to find forward Richard Flemming underneath the net for easy buckets.
“When the other guys drove in, we were sliding positions. When somebody takes the guy driving, somebody’s gotta slide, and that wasn’t happening,” explained Joseph. “That’s something we gotta work on.”
Aside from the assists, however, the Indians’ defense held their former teammate to two just points, as the game was a reunion of sorts for players like Cooper and Sturgis — who transferred to Central for his senior season after spending the last three years at Indian River.
“We knew how [Sturgis] plays, so I wasn’t really worried about that,” said Cooper.
The Indians tried to mount a second-quarter comeback by way of another three-pointer from Smith, on an assist from junior guard Colby Chandler, to make it 20-13, but Central would go on to take the game into the half at 28-19.
The real comeback came in third quarter, when freshman forward Antonio Jones found junior forward Isaiah Bratton down low to cut the lead back down to 10, and a defensive rebound from Bratton led to Jones then finding freshman point guard Jamier Felton for a bucket, to make it 35-27.
“We were trying to get the chemistry going again,” said Felton. “We came back 10-10, then they went on that 10-point run and made it 20-10. Then we had to fight our way back into the game.”
After Chandler was fouled on a three-point attempt and his all three ensuing foul shots, the third quarter would end with Central up 37-31. In the fourth quarter, Cooper would cut the lead to 37-34 after knocking down a three right out of the gate. With the lead cut further, to 43-41, near the three-minute mark, however, a technical foul called against IR gave Central an opportunity to steal back the momentum.
“That’s four points and the ball. It could be a seven-point swing,” Joseph explained. “Say they hit the four fouls shots and hit a three — that could be seven. Those are the things that we’re trying to control about the game. We’re still working on the basketball IQ.”
Despite the squad’s youth showing at certain points, Joseph said he was encouraged by the effort by the team on the whole — especially some of the younger players stepping up, including Jones.
“I think Antonio’s coming around underneath. He’s realizing he can score underneath. He blocked like four or five shots. He’s been doing that every night that,” said Joseph. “They’re starting to understand that not everybody gets to play — whatever you get, the minutes you get, you gotta use them. That’s how a team runs.”
“I was always trying to find the big man. They had smaller guys out there,” said Jones of his assist success on the night. “We always start off slow, but it’s coming together.”
The Indians will look to get back in the win column on Tuesday, Feb. 9, when they head up to Milford at 6:15 p.m. The Golden Knights will also gear up for a division matchup on the road when they head to Polytech on Friday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m.