The Indian River Indians varsity basketball team can only go up, after losing their third straight game — including a 60-43 loss to James M. Bennett in the first-round of the Daily Times Mason-Dixon Cup at the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury, Md., on Dec. 27.
The loss came just one day after the team learned that third-year varsity junior forward Jeremy Purnell will miss the next three to five weeks due to a fractured pinky on his shooting hand.
Without Purnell, head coach Pat Kelly was forced to give some of his younger players — such as freshmen forwards Montré Andrews and Keion Sturgis — extended looks against the Clippers. It was a losing effort in the end, but he at least had hopes of getting them acclimated to the varsity level of play.
“We’ve got three ninth-graders starting and two 10th-graders playing the point guard position,” Kelly said, “so it’s pretty much a baptism by fire.”
“It’s a challenging situation,” he added. “But there also isn’t a magic answer.”
And somehow, despite all the negatives, Kelly was able to put it all in perspective and see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The answer is that we need to play harder, stay positive, stick together and come to practice — and to get some of the young kids in there, because they’re still getting their feet wet. They have good futures ahead of them, but right now it’s time to find out who wants to play,” Kelly said. “We can’t just go through the motions.”
Andrews and Sturgis joined a lineup with only a smattering of upperclassmen receiving quality minutes this season.
And against James M. Bennett, Indian River’s youthful inexperience and lack of cohesiveness showed.
Clipper guard Deante Harrell feasted on Indian River turnovers, scoring six of his eight points in transition. He had seven steals and eight assists to five different players. And first-team All Bayside forward C.J Brown scored his 19 points nearly at will.
Indian River trimmed an eight-point Clipper half-time lead and held it to five for most of the second half, with opportunities to cut it further. But the Indians couldn’t find a way to get over the hump.
“We were in this game into the fourth quarter, but every game we’re going to play is going to be hard,” Kelly said. “It’s a matter of these guys learning how to win.”
“We had three opportunities to cut (the Clippers’ lead) to three, but we couldn’t get into the flow of things.”
Sophomore point guard Jamar Manuel scored only four points and Tyree Oliver hasn’t scored in the last two games.
“Tyree’s our best on-ball defensive player and a finesse player, making some nice passes. But he had too many turnovers and hasn’t scored in the last two games,” Kelly said. “Someone has got to take control of the game.”
“And right now we’re not getting any sort of energy flow from our point guards,” the coach added. “Especially Jamar — he’s the guy who has to step up.”
Andrews, Sturgis and freshman guard Deshawn Godwin combined for only nine points but should benefit from the recent arrival of senior Miyo Castro.
“We’re going through a hard time right now, but all that means is that someone is else has got to step up and be aggressive,” Purnell said. “We have a lot of different players that have a lot of different skills and now’s the time they’ve got to want the ball.”
Castro played his first game of the season against James M. Bennett, and he provided a much-needed burst of energy off the bench.
Castro scored 10 points and was a constant threat along the baseline.
“Miyo can run all day,” Kelly said “And he brings us energy.”
Castro mentioned that he didn’t play earlier because his mother had wanted him to get a job. But he soon began craving court action.
“Miyo came to me and said he wanted to play. And if he wants to play, then I’m going to give him that chance,” Kelly said.
Indian River’s consolation game against Mardela High School at noon on Dec. 30 will precede the Daily Times Mason-Dixon Cup Championship game between James M. Bennett and Delmar High School at 1:30 p.m.