Game in and game out, senior forward Travis Irving exemplifies exactly what Indian River High School Head Coach Pat Kelly wants from a basketball player: basketball awareness, tough defense and the skill to back it up.
The Indians have a good-to-outside chance of making the Delaware state tournament, but Irving isn’t leaving anything to chance. This past week may very well have been his last week playing high school basketball. So he made sure to leave it all on the line and scored a triple-double in the Indians’ home-game finale with a 77-56 victory over Delmar on Feb. 21.
Irving scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half while also reeling in 11 rebounds and assists to “fill up a box score,” as Kelly would say. But that wasn’t even the highlight. As the Indians’ best on-the-ball defender, Irving routinely covers the opposing teams’ best player – something he did in tremendous fashion in the final two games against Lake Forest and Delmar.
“I try to do that every game,” explained Irving. “Kelly wants me to shut them down so I was in their face on every shot.”
Lake Forest’s Jarrell Scott is a bona fide scorer, but Irving put the clamps on him. Scott scores bushels of points no matter who plays him and seven times has scored 30 or more points. He plunked down half (30) of Lake Forest’s point total in their 62-60 loss to Indian River on Feb. 2, but Irving’s play on Feb. 20 cemented his position on the team as a shut-down defender.
Lake Forest won the game 75-74 but for four quarters, Irving blanketed Scott and forced him to shoot quick shots and alter his shooting motion, with long arms on 9-21 shooting that included 2-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Irving’s tight play on Scott allowed other players to step up their production. (Guard Robby Hicks scored 24 points – 17 in the second half – and center Marcus Brown scored 18 points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.) Indian River didn’t play good enough team defense to get the win.
The Indians played good team offense (21 assists and a 56 field-goal percentage) against the Spartans. But it wouldn’t prove to be enough. They had a chance to redeem themselves, and Irving and his tough defensive play spearheaded the effort.
Irving’s mission was Barry Bratten, a beast in the paint and Delmar’s main scoring threat. Shutting him down meant a very good chance of an Indian River victory, which is what happened.
“He (Irving) played great defense,” said Delmar Head Coach Garland Hayward. “He was right on him and left Bratten no breathing room.”
Bratten dumped 26 points on 10-16 shooting from the field, which included 2-3 from three-point-land and 4-4 from the free-throw line, in a 66-61 loss Jan. 6. He wouldn’t even come close to replicating those numbers in the finale.
Irving pestered Bratten into shooting a terrible field-goal percentage (6-25 from the field) for 12 points and limited him to half of his rebound total from the previous game (10 to five in the finale).
“I think I did a pretty good job on their best scorer,” said Irving. “I held him to less points than usual.”
“Bratten had an off game,” Hayward explained. “He relied on his jump shot too often and he’s got to learn to take his game inside. He’s got a good inside game and is a good rebounder. But when you have someone in your face all game, it’s going to give you problems. It’s going to throw you off.”
Irving’s defensive play rubbed off on his teammates and, collectively, they forced Delmar to shoot a nasty 20-73 from the field and had only one other player score double digits.
Indian River, on the other hand, had five players score double figures in the 20-point-surplus victory. Guard Curtis Chandler scored a game-high 16 points but also chipped in a season-high seven assists. Irving scored 15; Jeremy Purnell notched 12 points and 11 rebounds; and Miyo Castro added 10 points.
Brian Bell gave the Indians a spark off the bench with his efficient shooting from the floor and, like Irving, a tough defensive game. Bell added 15 points on 7-10 shooting from the field but also added three blocks and two steals to his box score.
“I’m good with it,” said Bell referring to his role coming off the bench, “I make sure I’m paying attention to what’s going on the court when I’m not on the court. When I get in I try to stay focused, and when we’re playing man defense I want to shut them down.
“Right now we’re playing as a team but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Bell added. “We’ve got to go in with our heads on our shoulders and don’t rush in because we’re getting the looks.”
Kelly mentioned that losing Irving to graduation will certainly leave a void as far as an all-around playmaker but he is confident that someone will step up. Kelly is looking for someone who will “defend the court inch by inch and foot by foot,” and Bell could be that player.
“You start looking around at who can fill that void and I think Brian (Bell) could. The sky’s the limit. He just has to set his priorities and follow up. He has some decisions to make whether he does or not,” Kelly said.
Irving noted that he isn’t anxious to leave high school basketball, though he may yet have more play left. There is a good chance he will play at the collegiate level. Kelly has been in contact with Wesley Head Coach Jerry Kobasa and with Cecil and Chesapeake College, so this is only the end of one chapter of Irving’s life, with much more yet to be written.