New-look Westover boys team thriving on physical play

Westover boys Dallis Smith says his retooled team is ready to attack teams this season in a different way than the program has in the past.

Westover boys Dallis Smith says his retooled team is ready to attack teams this season in a different way than the program has in the past.

ALBANY — Dallis Smith talked about it before the season started, and little by little his Westover Patriots are changing their image and reinventing their style of play.

Smith wants this team to be more physical and have an inside presence. Sure, Westover has shooting guards such as T.J. Cromer, who led the Patriots in scoring a year ago with a deadly outside shot, and players such as Kel Miller and Kyle Baker can play the wing and hit jumpers.

But what Smith is looking for this year is more production in the paint, and he has young, physical players to make his plan work. Smith talked abut young guns like C.J. Davis, Kahlil Carson and Andre Kennedy being a big part of the new look at Westover — The Herald’s No. 2-ranked team at 5-1 — before the season started.

“We really want to be better in the block and score more (inside) this year,’’ Smith said before his team played its first game. “That’s the difference in this year’s team. We want to be more physical and score down low.’’

His plan and philosophy was never more evident than in Tuesday’s come-from-behind win against Crisp County, which knocked off Westover in the semifinals of the region tournament last year and went on to claim the school’s first region title.

Crisp held a seven-point lead with 7:03 left in the game, but Westover outscored the Cougars, 24-8, over the final 7:03 to win, 71-62. It was actually more like a 24-5 run because Crisp hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final a bit closer.

Davis, a 6-foot-5 junior, suddenly became the go-to-guy for the Patriots, who went to him for the win. Baker hit a pair of free throws and was the right man on a fast break to close the score to 54-53 with 5:32 left, and then Davis took over.

Westover changed its defense and forced three turnovers in a row, and Davis went on a personal eight-point run to lift the Patriots to a 61-54 lead as he went 4-for-4 on the inside.

That was the plan.

“In the second half we wanted to concentrate on getting the ball down low and getting it to C.J.,” Smith said. “That’s what we talked about, and they were conscious about getting the ball to him. They did a good job getting him the ball, and C.J. had a great game.”

Davis scored 10 points in the final seven minutes to ignite the Patriots, who took off running and didn’t stop until they had put the game away. Davis finished with a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds.

“Yeah, that’s a career-high,” Davis said with a smile after the game. “The most I ever scored in a game (before Tuesday) was 15 points.’’

This is exactly what Smith is looking for in Davis and his team.

“This is what we talked about at the beginning of the year,” Smith said. “We were going (inside) to C.J. earlier in the game (on Tuesday) and we were up by eight, and then in the second half we concentrated on getting the ball down low (again).”

The Patriots are unbeaten in the Region 1-AAAA race early in the season, and their only loss was to Class AAAAAA Tift County, which is ranked second in the state — in the largest classification — and arguably has the most talented team in all of Georgia.

In recent games, Smith has seen Davis, Carson and Kennedy all contribute inside, and junior Donovan Robinson came off the bench last Saturday to give Westover a lift from beyond the arc, where he hit three treys in Westover’s 73-53 victory against Terrell County. The Patriots hadn’t beaten the Greenwave in three years until Saturday’s win in Dawson.

“(Robinson) is the X-factor,’’ said Smith, who has a team of changeable parts that is making this year’s Westover squad more dangerous than the last two seasons. Cromer and Miller have had their moments, and the two seniors can both score and rebound. They combined for 46 points (Miller had 24 and Cromer had 22) and 16 rebounds in Saturday’s win against Terrell County. Then Cromer scored 16 against Crisp, and Miller added 13, but both were big parts of getting the ball inside to Davis, who was looking for the rock down the stretch.

“I was expecting the ball,’’ he said. “Once I saw a player go by their guy, I was waiting for him to dish it to me.”

They did, and it was money in the bank.

“He played great,’’ Cromer said of Davis. “He stepped up big time for us. The guards weren’t shooting the ball well and the plan was to go down low and get the ball (to C.J.), And he had a great game.”

Crisp County has been through the grinder of late. The Cougars (3-3 and 2-2 in the region) lost to Herald No. 1 Monroe last Friday, 40-39, and then lost to Herald No. 2 Westover on Tuesday. Crisp jumped out to fast starts in both games. The Cougars had a 13-point run in the first quarter against Monroe, and Davion Harvey scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the first quarter Tuesday night.

“He did that to us in the region tournament last year. They got off to a fast start in that game, too,” Smith said of Harvey. “Crisp is a real good team, and they always play us hard.’’

Crisp gets a non-region break Friday when the Cougars host Class A powerhouse Turner County, and Westover heads to Monroe on Friday for the first of what many expect to be two or three classic showdowns with their city rivals, who are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll.

Both teams are unbeaten in Region 1-AAAA, so Friday’s showdown will give somebody the early lead in the region race — and early bragging rights throughout Albany.