Indian River’s varsity basketball team did to the Seaford Blue Jays on Dec. 12 what they couldn’t do against the Smyrna Eagles in their season opener — erase a double-digit deficit and hold on to the win.
The Indians (2-1) never led Seaford (1-2) in the first half and trailed the team by as many as 13 points before cutting the lead to three heading into the half.
The Indians full-court press took Seaford by storm late in the second quarter and their effort carried over into the second half, where Indian River built up their biggest lead of the game — eight points.
“This was a game that showed us just how good a team we are,” senior swingman Drew Gibbons said. “We have such a will to win and we’ve really come together.”
“I haven’t seen a more united team,” he continued.
Indian River played the passing lanes aggressively, forcing a season-high 15 steals as part of 31 turnovers, which lead to easy baskets in transition and held the Blue Jays to less than 50 percent shooting from the field from the second quarter on.
Seaford started the game hitting 6-11 shots from the field, but their shooting percentage dipped dramatically as the game went on — 35.3 percent for the rest of the game on 18-51 field goals. The drop-off was due to the defensive pressure and big-man Jeremy Purnell’s presence in the middle.
Purnell led the Indians with eight first-half points but it was his defense that ignited his team.
The Indians experimented with myriad presses late in the second quarter before settling in the second half, but no matter what, Purnell’s presence was felt defensively.
He had two steals in the first half and four for the game, finishing the game with a season-high five blocks, snagging 14 rebounds and tallying 12 points.
“Jeremy definitely showed the potential of being a very good basketball player,” Kelly said. “He still needs to get better at some things, but it’s a work in progress.”
Purnell’s defensive acuity sparked the others on his team and they began swarming Seaford on the periphery and everywhere in between, causing poor or rushed shots.
“We turned them over 31 times and part of that is they were playing under pressure,” Kelly said. “We let them get comfortable in the first quarter, and they swung the ball and spread us out. But from there on out, we closed out on them hard and didn’t give them easy shots.”
“We gave them all we had,” freshman guard Deshawn Godwin said. “After the Smyrna game, it made us realize that we didn’t want to lose anymore, and we just picked up where we left off,” he added of the point following their 57-46 win over Lake Forest on Dec. 7.
And one game after dumping 34 points on 14-19 shooting, senior transfer swingman Drew Gibbons blanked on his first eight shots and eventually finished the night with nine points on 3-16 shooting. But, fortunately, his teammates were there to pick up the load.
Sophomore guard Jamar Manuel had a game-high 19 points and scored 12 of those in the second half.
Indian River’s other senior transfer; Preston Irving, added eight points, had four rebounds and was a critical component of the Indians’ second-half pressure. Irving also had two steals and one block.
Sophomore point guard Tyree Oliver added seven points, including a third-quarter three-pointer and seven assists, but also turned the ball over four times and missed three of four fourth-quarter free-throws.
“This was a good game for him to build his confidence,” Kelly said of Oliver. “He took a hard charge, hit a big-three pointer and found a way to get the ball to Jamar (Manuel) late in the game.”
“He was put in a position to finish the game — now he has to learn how to do it,” Kelly said.
Godwin had six points and had two of the team’s 15 steals.
Seaford’s Ryan Andrews finished the game with a team-high 20 points but fouled out in the final minutes of the game, which all but sealed the Indians victory.
Seaford’s Jermaine Purnell put the Blue Jays up by one late in the game but Indian River stood fast.
Manuel took the ball to the rack for the basket despite a lot of contact to give the Indians a 58-57 lead with 1:15 left in the game. Gibbons made it a three-point lead with a bucket in the paint with only 30 seconds remaining.
Indian River allowed Seaford to cut the lead back to two points, but with only four seconds left, a Blue Jays win was improbable at best.
“We got some big baskets late in the game that really helped us,” Kelly said. “Manuel got one and Gibbons put us up three, and Seaford couldn’t find a way to turn the corner.”
Indian River will begin a two-game road stint starting with an away game at Nandua on Dec. 19, followed by an away game against Laurel on Dec. 23.