Indian River’s boys’ basketball team started the season out hot, with an 8-2 overall record. But five straight losses to Northern Henlopen Conference teams threw the team into a tail-spin and a nearly even record. Head Coach Pat Kelly needed a lift for his team, so he shuffled the starting lineup – and the initial spark has now turned into a blazing inferno.
Miyo Castro stepped up in Brian Bell’s one-game absence to compliment Curtis Chandler’s 21 points with the game-winner and 14 of his own (averaging 14 points over last three games) and Travis Irving filled in the blanks with a triple-double effort (10 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals) to seal the deal against Lake Forest. Bell returned to the starting lineup against Seaford and the team picked up right where they left off — with a win.
Indian River never led going into halftime of the game but they were able to swing things in their favor by playing pressure defense and hitting pressure-packed free-throws that gave the Indians a four-point combined margin of victory in the 60-58 win over Lake Forest (Feb. 2) and 78-76 win over Seaford (Feb. 7).
Down five points with five minutes remaining in the game, Kelly cut his boys loose and full-court pressed the Spartans to create turnovers and scoring opportunities. Reserve guard Morgan Hunt had three steals in the fourth quarter and hit the game-tying shot in the third quarter as part of his season-high eight points on 2-3 shooting from beyond the arc.
“We we’re able to get the last spurt at the end and play a little faster,” said Kelly.
Lake Forest shot 50 percent from the field (13-26 jumpshots and 11-22 in paint) but the chance of winning decreases significantly if the Indians hold their opponent to under 60 points.
“I always tell my teams that we won’t win if we don’t hold our opponent to under 60 points,” emphasized Kelly.
Lake Forest was averaging 75 points per game and won two games over a three-game span. That included a 69-68 win over Polytech and a narrow 77-73 loss to Cape Henlopen, and guard Jarrell Scott was a big part of those games.
Scott scored 30 points on 6-9 three-point shooting against Indian River, but his supporting cast came up short. Scott scored 18 of the Spartans’ 29 first-half points, and it wasn’t until the second half that his teammates decided to chip in.
Chauncey Duncan scored the second-most points with 10, eight of which were in the second half. But the next closest teammates could only muster eight and seven points and all in second half.
Indian River’s gritty win over Lake Forest sent them sailing into Seaford and prepared to take on the Blue Jays with a full clip, but Kelly’s squad would have to rally again. Center Jeremy Purnell re-aggravated an old ankle injury in grabbing an offensive rebound. But his teammates rose to the occasion.
The Indians trailed Seaford 38-30 going into the third quarter — but all that would change. Chandler, Bell and Irving’s ability to drive the lane forced Seaford to make a decision: give up easy shots or make fouls.
Seaford chose the latter and paid for it. Tyree Davis and Michael Alexis both fouled out midway through the fourth quarter and Indian River capitalized.
They made 22-31 free throws for the game but hit 20-28 in the second half. Irving went 8-8 in a double-double effort (10 points and 10 assists). Castro made all three of his free-throw attempts (all in fourth quarter, including a three-point play). Chandler made 5-7 (a game-high 29 points). And after only hitting 2-5 from the charity stripe in the third quarter, Bell made four of his last five (24 points) to complete the team’s best free-throw shooting day.
Lake Forest Head Coach Sean Knowles noted that, in a close game, free throws are often the deciding factor.
“Games are won and lost at the free-throw line,” he said. “Whoever shoots the best percentage is probably going to win.”
Seaford made 12-20 free-throws.
“We made them at the crucial moments,” said Chandler. “We are making our move at the exact right time.”