Almost a year ago to the day, Dover Head Basketball Coach G.R. Myers faced off for the first time in his coaching career against his mentor, Indian River High School’s Pat Kelly, and lost in convincing fashion, 97-65. But he came back a little smarter and more determined to win – doing so 68-59 this week in a fourth-quarter nail-biter against the 20th-ranked Indians.
Myers spent two years as Kelly’s understudy following a stint as an assistant under Delaware State Head Coach Greg Jackson, at University of Delaware and Caesar Rodney, but none could compare to Kelly.
“Kelly is legend in my mind,” said Myers. “He’s the first to win 300 games in the Southern Conference, which isn’t easy to do. There are some plays that I took right out of his playbook but didn’t use because I figured he would know how to defend it.”
Myers mentioned that the one thing that has stuck with him over the years was Kelly’s infamous press defense and he knew that no matter how far out of the game Indian River fell, they could always march back.
Indian River did march back from a 14-point Dover lead, to cut it to four points with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
“Kelly never relaxes,” said Myers. “He loves to press and always has quick guards to run it. They made a nice run and had me sweaty.”
Center Jeremy Purnell hit one of two free throws for 16 of his team-high points, to cut the lead to nine, and a clutch three-pointer by Miyo Castro knocked it down to six with 1:20 left. Travis Irving snagged one of his two steals on the very next Dover possession and looped it out to Brian Bell for two of his 13 points. That gave them a four-point lead and the Indians’ closest lead of the game after their first basket.
In addition to wanting to beat Kelly for the first time in his young career, Myers wanted his team to win a particular way and that was to control the tempo of the game. Well into the bonus, Myers wanted to get the ball to his best free-throw-shooting ball-handler and let the chips fall where they may.
Davon Heath didn’t disappoint and scored five of his eight free-throws in the fourth quarter and combined with sophomore Derrick Smith’s sharp shooting (five fourth-quarter points, including a three-pointer) sealed the game.
Indian River maintained the tempo in the first half and held Dover to 25 apiece as each team headed to their respective locker rooms, but Dover would reclaim its focus and widen their margin on the back of center Anthony Parham.
Parham scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half (4-4 FG in first half) and reeled in eight of 11 rebounds as well, where Indian River got killed all night. Only Purnell, Bell and Castro collected rebounds in the first half (seven, two and one, respectively) compared to Dover’s 13 first-half boards. But the gap was breached in the second half.
Dover scored nearly as many offensive rebounds (11) compared the Indians’ total (15) but much had to do with the size of the Senators’ starters.
“When you have a starting line up of 6-foot-and-bigger in the Henlopen Conference, you’re going to get rebounds,” explained Myers.
Myers’ zone defense kept the Indians out of the paint, but Curtis Chandler’s relentless reigning of three-point shots (3-5) made him consider changing defenses.
“No. 5 (Chandler) makes you want to come out of that zone. But I decided to stay in my defense and told my guys to have awareness of where he is because he was hitting three-pointers from the corner,” said Myers.
Chandler scored only two baskets in the first half (two three-pointers) and eventually tallied 15. But it wouldn’t be enough, even combined with Bell’s 13 and Purnell’s 16, despite outscoring the Senators’ top three scorers (Parham 18, Heath 17, J.J. Bryant 10).
The Indians other players (Travis Irving, Miyo Castro, Morgan Hunt and Tyree Oliver) combined for only 14 points on 6-15 shooting that just didn’t give them enough of a boost.
The rest of the Dover squad contributed 23 points on 9-23 shooting, which might’ve been negated the lead had the Indians rebounded better.
Indian River’s bad habit of making fourth-quarter runs tried and failed against Woodbridge on Feb. 10 as well.
Chandler led all scorers in that game with 23 (all in the second half) after not hitting one shot in the first half. But it wouldn’t be enough to put the Indians over the edge.
MacArthur Risper’s 22 points on 6-8 from the land of tres and Vashod Whidbee’s 16 points were too much to overcome. Risper and Whidbee scored all of Woodbridge’s 24 first-half points but received help in the second half.
Woodbridge’s bench scored 18, compared to Irving and Purnell combining for only six. Irving hit only 1-9 and Purnell was 1-8, which hampered their comeback.
“Last time it was a track meet,” said Woodbridge Head Coach Damon Ayers. “We wanted to slow them down and control the tempo.”
Despite enduring two tough losses to state-tournament-quality teams, Kelly is confident in his players’ game.
“It was good to see our guys fight back at the end,” said Kelly. “I was glad to see them get hands on the ball and make it a game. Had we made a few more shots it might’ve been a different game. We have three more games and have an outside chance at making the state tournament, so we need to just keep going.”