Westover shooting guard Jordan Floyd shoos a baseline runner Friday against Manchester in the U-Save-It Christmas Classic at Albany High. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — For the second time in a week Westover head coach Dallis Smith walked away disgruntled after watching his team clinch a victory.
The reason was simple: an inability to close out games and finish off opponents.
After a back-and-forth first half Friday against Manchester, the Herald No. 3 Patriots broke away in the second half to build a 23-point lead. But they nearly gave it all away to the Blue Devils, who trimmed the deficit to nine before eventually losing, 82-71, Friday night during day one of the U-Save-It Christmas Classic at Albany High School.
“We put some more people in the game to try and give them some experience, but they are just not closing games out,” a visibly disappointed Smith said. “They are not focused enough, not mentally tough enough. It just so happens we got the win, but they stopped playing, and you can’t do that.”
Last week it was Monroe rallying back from a significant deficit (20 points) before falling short of the comeback. This week it was the Manchester Blue Devils (4-1) who continued to fight to the end despite getting down big.
“It was just a lot of fight in my guys; I challenged them to work hard and continue to do the little things right,” Manchester head coach Curtis Noble said. “We’re up against a higher region team with great athletes … but we love coming down here because we get better every year from the experience.”
With both teams unfamiliar with each other the first 13 minutes were basically an exchange of baskets. Then in the final three minutes of the first half, Westover (9-2), having settled down into its game, began to turn things up and established a 10-point lead at 38-28.
“It started on the defensive end with our defenders switching off their man at the top, which gave them some trouble in getting to the basket,” Smith explained. “Then our guys were more focused offensively and started going to the basket and finding the open man. We got a couple of easy baskets that really got us going.”
Nobody got going more than Michael Green who led the way with a game-high 22 points.
“They tried to press us up front, but we have good guards who can handle the ball, and after we broke the play down I was just hoping (my teammates) would find me,” Green said.
In addition to the Patriots’ ability to break the press, Westover had a conspicuous size advantage over the Blue Devils that enabled them to score several second-chance points. Dunavon Robinson finished with 17 points, Andre Kennedy added 12 points and Timothy White chipped in eight points.
Jermaine Williams was the high man for Manchester with 13 points. Demarcus Addie, Quin Prather and Hozell Campbell all scored 12 points apiece.
After not being there for the Patriots in the first half, the transition game played a huge role in Westover’s ability to pounce on Manchester in the third quarter. Up by seven at halftime, the Patriots opened the second half with a 7-0 run that took the lead to 14. When the Blue Devils started missing more shots from the field the lead jumped to 23.
“We made simple passes, got to the basket, got a couple of defensive stops and scored, which put us up,” Robinson said. “But we have to have better defense down the stretch in order to close out teams.”
The Patriots will have a chance to redeem themselves today when they play host to Herald No. 4 Randolph-Clay at 7 p.m.