Good teams find a way to win and Indian River’s varsity basketball team is no different. The Indians notched their second and third consecutive wins by beating Woodbrige 82-76 on Dec. 16 and Nandua 51-48 on Dec. 20 — despite a lack of continuity on the court.
In only four games, Indian River has yet to play an entire game with their starting unit. Guard Curtis Chandler missed the Seaford game due to an ejection in the season-opener against Smyrna. Forward Travis Irving injured his ankle in the Woodbridge game and subsequently didn’t play in the non-conference game against Nandua, but Indian River prevailed.
“It’s been frustrating because I haven’t been able to play the same group of guys,” explained Head Coach Pat Kelly. “Seaford is a good ball-team and beating them without Chandler was huge for us. But losing Travis changes our chemistry. He slashes, gets second-chance points, plays good defense, anticipates and plays good defense. He can fill up a box score, and we lost a lot of offense, but some guys stepped up.”
Brian Bell and Chandler put on a scoring clinic against Woodbridge for a combined 67 points of the Indians 82 points (82 percent). Chandler led all scorers with 34 points and hit nine of 10 free-throws. Bell’s and Chandler’s ability to get to the rack earned them countless scoring opportunities and they made the most of each of them.
Bell scored on 13 of 22 field goals and Chandler nailed 12 of 19 while combining for 16 of 20 free throws and going eight for eight in the fourth quarter.
Indian River held a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter but the resurgent Raiders, led by Lashon Cannon post-play and Vashod Whidbee’s long-range shooting, cut the lead to four with 1:21 left in the game. Cannon scored a team-high 26. And Whidbee’s three-point game, though largely nefficient (four of 11), kept the Raiders within striking distance.
Without Irving, both players not only picked up their scoring but hit the glass as well, pulling down eight boards apiece. Bell’s previous game-high had been six rebounds, and the Woodbridge game marked the first time Chandler played an entire game this season.
Like Bell and Chandler, center Jeremy Purnell picked up his game to lift the Indians over Nandua. He scored a season-high 14 points on five of 11 shooting and four of six from the charity stripe. In addition, he pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds.
“This was a good team win,” Purnell said. “Losing Travis was a big loss, but we stepped up and played hard.”
Purnell called for the ball and displayed an air of confidence that has eluded the young post-player thus far in his burgeoning basketball career. He ran the floor better and was more aware around the basket, which contributed to his increase in productivity — and his teammates like what they see.
“I’d like to see more of that,” said Chandler. “Nobody in the state should be able to guard him. With a post-up player like that, we’ll win the (conference) championship.”
Kelly mentioned that he’s noticed a change in Purnell’s game but will have to develop his footwork to take his game to the next level.
“Jeremy’s played great the last two games but he has to develop his footwork,” explained Kelly. “Charles Barkley was a great player because he had great footwork and could engage a defender and attack the zones. Jeremy wants to settle for jump shots. He needs to learn to attack the basket.”
Indian River attacks the basket better than any competing team but had trouble converting against Nandua. Bell scored a season-low nine points, which included a three-pointer as time expired in the first quarter on four-of-16 shooting. Bell missed his six shots but hit two straight in the final 47 seconds of the first quarter.
“We tried to dribble through the zone and it didn’t work,” Kelly said.
The Indians usually run-and-gun but couldn’t convert often enough to generate a very comfortable lead. Irving was the missing ingredient.
“He’s our biggest creator,” said Chandler. “He’s our leader and he calms us down.
Indian River led by 12 at half but the score totaled a season-low 27-15.
“This was by far our lowest point total allowed,” said Kelly. “We kept them out of the paint and made them settle for jump shots. But we have to execute. It’s a growing process and we don’t run a million sets. But the ones we do call, we need to work the ball around.”
Chandler earned a double-double and scored a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Indian River has a few days off but will resume action in the Lions Club Classic in Salisbury on Dec. 27 against Stephen Decatur. Indian River will play McDonough High School on Dec. 30. Both games are to start at 1 p.m.