Deerfield’s Chandler Matthews is defended by Restoration Academy’s Shy Cunningham during Saturday’s game. Matthews scored a team-high 14 points for the Knights, who had their seven-game losing streak snapped in a 72-59 loss. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — The Deerfield-Windsor Knights entered Saturday’s contest as winners of seven straight games.
But for Alabama’s No. 1 ranked AISA Class AA Restoration Academy, which had its own win streak of eight games, Deerfield’s recent string of victories was anything but impressive.
Propelled by a huge first-quarter rife with intense pressure defense, the Bulldogs withstood a near epic second-half comeback from the Knights on the road to capture their ninth consecutive win, 72-59.
“They did to us what we try to do to teams — they made us play faster than we can play,” Deerfield head coach Gordy Gruhl said. “We weren’t making good decisions with the basketball; we were dribbling the ball too much instead of passing it.”
The Knights’ inability to run plays and execute the offense was only the beginning of their troubles. Early on they were nowhere to be found on the glass and stopping the Bulldogs from penetrating the teeth of defense seemed virtually impossible.
Then came the latter part of the third quarter when Deerfield (11-4) tore into Restoration’s 22-point lead, eventually cutting it down to three during the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
“During halftime one of our coaches told us we were playing scared and said that he was almost ashamed to be our coach,” said Christian Wallace, who finished the contest with eight points, but had a bigger impact on the defensive end. “He said there are some things coaches cannot fix and that we needed to man up and make a comeback, and that’s what we did even though we could not finish it.”
The Bulldogs (20-5), who went the first three and a half minutes without attempting a jumpshot, had made it their business to attack the paint at all costs, even if it meant being called for charging, which they were several times. They were determined to get the Knights to play out of tempo and, forcing them to do too much too quickly.
“We don’t have a lot of size, so we want to make the game as fast as possible by pushing the ball and grinding defensively,” Restoration coach Jeff Baker said. “I thought we did a good job of that in the first half, but in the second half our guys abandoned (the gameplan) by punking out and not playing our style of basketball.”
Down 44-22 at the break, Deerfield had only one question to answer: Would they make the second competitive?
The answer was a resounding yes.
It started with a forced turnover here and there. Then came a bevy of treys from Chandler Matthews and Ryan Toole, who led the way with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Finally, stops were made on defense thanks in large part to Wallace’s willingness to sacrifice his body all in the name of a charge.
“Our guards try to do a good job of keeping (opponents) out of the middle, but my goal as a defensive player is to keep inside scoring to a minimal, whether it’s through boxing out and not allowing second chance points or taking a charge,” Wallace said.
The Knights did all the things they needed to do to trim the deficit, but it came at the expense of their energy. And as Gruhl pointed out, the players soon fell victim to fatigue.
“I am proud of our effort, but when you expend so much energy trying to come back it definitely takes something out of you,” he said. “We had to adjust to the pace they were making us play and (unfortunately) it took us a half to do that.”
Jay Barber was Deerfield’s third-leading scorer with nine points, while Austin Fallaw equaled Wallace’s scoring total of eight.
Marquis Grays was the high man for Restoration with 17 points. De’ederick Petty added 14 points, and Junior Chikwuma chipped in 12 points.
Lady Knights beat Terrell Academy
Amid a losing season, Deerfield head coach Jeff Eubanks was glad to see his team get a victory at home against a good Terrell Academy team.
Using the press defense as their biggest weapon, the Lady Knights jumped out to an early lead before beating the Lady Eagles, 46-35.
Not only did they successfully utilize the press, they also handled Terrell Academy’s full-court pressure, essentially rendering it useless.
Gabby Burt scored 11 points to go with a game-high nine rebounds. Joyner Tyson also scored 11 points, and point guard Nyla Perry finished with seven points and five assists.
Jordan Lang grabbed eight rebounds of her own, helping her team maintain a sizable lead throughout the game.
Leading in scoring for Terrell Academy was Tessa Jordan with 10 points. Alana McCook added seven points, and Marilauren Farr and Olivia Rogers had six and five points, respectively.
With the win the Lady Knights are now within three games of .500 at 7-10.