Indian River’s boys’ basketball team put a stop to its five-game losing skid and now sports a two-game win streak instead. But none of that will matter come Friday, Feb. 10. Southern conference contender Woodbridge (11-6 overall, 7-2 conference) will lace ’em up against the Indians for a rematch of their mid-December clash, which Indian River (11-7 overall, 8-1 conference) won 82-76.
Woodbridge has won four of its last seven games, which includes a 51-47 win over Cape Henlopen (Jan. 24) and a 44-43 win over Sussex Central (Jan. 31). But neither team can afford to take the game lightly with only a handful of games remaining this season (five for IRHS, four for Woodbridge).
Woodbridge lost the mid-December game to IR because they shot a poor percentage from the three-point line, were out-rebounded and in turn were outscored by Indian River’s go-to guys. As a team, Woodbridge shot 46 percent from the field (30-65 field goals) but only shot 20 percent from beyond the arc (4-20).
Lashon Cannon scored a team-high 26 points and Vashod Whidbee put up 24 points. MacArthur Risper made two of three three-pointers in the first half but only hit one of nine in the second half. That put Woodbridge in a situation where they didn’t get many second looks.
Indian River, on the other hand, was able to get the ball out to their scorers and let them get to the basket for scoring opportunities. Brian Bell and Curtis Chandler sliced and diced through the lane to combine for 67 points on 24-36 shooting (12-18 from the field, each).
Travis Irving had four points, five rebounds and four assists in the first half but didn’t return to the game because of an injured ankle.
With Irving out, the rest of the Indians team had to pick up rebounding responsibilities and the team responded. Purnell grabbed 12 of his team’s 39 rebounds. Bell and Chandler both pulled down eight boards apiece. Woodbridge’s high-rebounder, Marcus Nock, checked in with only five.
Woodbridge Head Coach Damon Ayers said he felt that winning the match up this time could only be accomplished if they remedied their failures from the first loss.
(1) Woodbridge needs more balance on offense. They have four scorers averaging 10 points or better, and unselfishness is one key to victory. “We have some guys who can shoot outside (Whidbee and Risper) and some guys who can finish inside (Nock and Cannon) but the key is to play together,” said Ayers.
(2) Better defense is essential. Last time, Woodbridge played sloppy defense and allowed Bell and Chandler a free pass in the lane. “We need to step up the intensity and stop reaching. We sent them (Bell and Chandler) to the free-throw line for easy baskets. We need to cut of their penetration and rebound,” said Ayers. Indian River out-rebounded Woodbridge 39-18. Ayers noted that they want to force players other than Bell and Chandler to take shots. “Purnell was next highest scorer. We just can’t give up 30-plus points to two players and win, so we need to force them to pass,” he said.
(3) Prepare for battle. Woodbridge has a similar lineup to Indian River’s in that they have a small rotation of players. Three of Indian River’s key scorers are upperclassmen, while Woodbridge has a number of young contributing players. Woodbridge’s Risper and Cannon are juniors, while Whidbee and Nock are a sophomore and freshman, respectively. “It’s going to be tough for our kids because they are so young. They haven’t ever been in this predicament and they’re going to have mature much faster. Kelly’s kids understand the whole scenario. Every team is scrambling for the south and Indian River wants to rep the south,” said Ayers.
Indian River isn’t playing the same team as they did earlier this season and some believe that Woodbridge has already turned the corner.
“Woodbridge is a good shooting team that crashes the boards hard,” said Seaford forward Kyan Andrews, who finished with 21 points against Indian River. “They’re starting to play together.”
Key for IR:
(1) Indian River needs continued rebounding from their guards (Bell and Chandler) — especially if Purnell is unable to go for the game.
(2) Indian River needs safe play from its point guards (Tyree Oliver and Morgan Hunt). “Morgan and Tyree really compliment each other well,” said IR Head Coach Pat Kelly. “Morgan gave us a defensive push that helped us turn the corner in the third quarter (vs. Seaford) and Tyree came in ran the offense the way we needed it.”
(3) Indian River cannot commit foolish turnovers. Ally-oops, passes off the backboard touchdown passes and rabbits out of hats are almost unnecessary. Irving always has his eye down-court, which is a good thing. A player must know where his team stands in the game and not jeopardize the lead or a chance at building a comeback.
(4) Indian River will have to break Woodbridge’s full-court press. “Both teams have great scorers and have similar athletes that can run in similar instances but they aren’t mirror images,” said Seaford Head Coach Sean Knowles. “Woodbridge likes to run the press and Pat likes to change defenses.”
An Indian River win would put them in the drivers’ seat with only five games remaining. Their four remaining games are against Lake Forest, Delmar, Laurel and Dover. And Dover is the last school Indian River hasn’t played this season. Tip-off for the IR vs. Woodbridge game on Feb. 10 is at 7:15 p.m.