Indians look to defense for help

If it ain’t broke then leave it be — but if there’s a problem then it must be addressed.
That’s precisely what Indian River head basketball coach Pat Kelly has done, amidst the Indians’ five-game losing streak. Losses to Polytech, Cape Henlopen, Sussex Tech and Sussex Central marked a time to change the team structure a bit, for the good of the team. And the strategy nearly paid off, despite losing to Caesar Rodney 66-62 on Jan. 31.

“We need to have guys run their spots and get our hands up on defense,” said Miyo Castro, who scored a season-high 15 points in the loss to the Riders. “No. 5, you saw what happened when we didn’t get our hands up.”

Caesar Rodney didn’t score a lot of points in the paint but they were able to make the necessary passes for shooters to knock down uncontested jump shots. Steve Mesilus led all scorers with 31 points — 25 of which were scored after throwing up at the start of the half on 10-16 shooting in the second half. He actually scored all but 10 of the Riders second-half points.

No other starter scored more than nine points, but the Riders bench played a big role in keeping them ahead of the Indians in the first half. Marvin Brown and Josh Morris each chipped in with solid production (eight and seven points, respectively) for a combined 6-9 from the field and 3-5 from beyond the arch.

Caesar Rodney held a modest four-point lead going into the second half but the lead quickly ballooned to 13 before the Indians countered. With guard Brian Bell on the bench for much of the game, the ball had to go to someone, and that someone was Curtis Chandler.

He scored 29 points, 18 of which were scored in the second half. But it wouldn’t be enough. Indian River tied Caesar Rodney late in the third quarter, then let the lead slip to five. It rose to as much as 10 in the fourth quarter. Indian River didn’t play defense well enough or score enough to win the game.

Travis Irving filled his usual role of Mr. Double-Double by picking up 10 rebounds and 12 assists but failed to score from the field. He hit on one of two free throws and missed three three-pointers in the second half — which will have to change, according to Kelly.

“We’re going to need more production from Travis,” said Kelly. “We missed a couple of bailout three-pointers at the end. And in the end, they shot better than we did. And that makes the difference in the end.”

Bell scored 10 points and Purnell added eight, but it was the improved second-half shooting of Castro, combined with Chandler’s performance, that kept the Indians in the fight. Castro made all five of his shots in the second half, after missing three uncontested lay-ups in the first half.

He also missed three such shots in the 63-52 loss to Sussex Central and vowed to make it up to his team with improved shooting in the next game.

“Last game (Sussex Central), I missed out on six points,” he said. “I wanted to improve, so I kept working hard in practice.”

Hard work is exactly what the Indian River Indians need if they are to stop the slide. Currently, the Indians overall regular-season record is one game above .500 (8-7) with an even conference record (6-6). And now that the tour of the north is history, it’s time to take a hard look at the remaining schedule against the south.

Seven games remain, but Indian River still has to play Lake Forest twice (they nearly beat Cape Henlopen, going 77-74 on Jan. 31), Laurel (which will want revenge after the beating they took), Seaford and then Woodbridge (which beat Sussex Central 44-43 on Jan. 31). Kelly, though, is encourage by how hard his guys played in the loss and is confident that they will find their way out of the woods.

“The kids played hard against a good team and I can’t blame them for that,” said Kelly. “We have to keep playing hard and we’ll get over the hump — we came close to tonight.”