Has Right Stuff
Publisher, Sussex County Online
Photos (from top): Central guard Frank Roach steals the ball from Laurel center Anton Ridley, Central guard Kyle White surrounded by Laurel defenders, Laurel forward Trey Elzey tips in follow shot, Central's Layton Wright and Laurel's Anton Ridley battle under the boards, and Central's Josh Ward challenges Laurel's Troy Elzey.
GEORGETOWN -- No one ever doubted that the Sussex Central High School boys' basketball team had the athletic ability to contend for the Henlopen Conference championship this season.
The doubts centered more on the Golden Knights' mental state following the turmoil that engulfed the squad last year and appeared to continue just before pre-season practice with the resignation of head coach Jerry Peden Jr.
But after the Knights capped a wildly successful first half of the season with a 79-64 victory over visiting Laurel in a possible preview of the conference championship game next month, the questions appear to have been answered.
Central, under first-year head coach Jerry Jones, improved to 11-1 overall and remained unbeaten in the conference at 10-0. Laurel, meanwhile, fell to 8-3 overall and 7-2 in the conference. The Bulldogs still lead the Henlopen South.
The Knights wasted no time putting the Bulldogs in a hole from which they would never recover.
Pounding the boards, creating turnovers, displaying balance on offense and gobbling up virtually every loose ball, Central jumped out to a 13-2 advantage midway through the first quarter. Although Laurel would cut the deficit to less than 10 points a few times, the Bulldogs never seriously challenged after that.
Laurel's best chance to turn the contest around came late, when Central rushed two ill-advised shots with less than two minutes left, allowing Laurel to pull within 69-64 with 1:16 to go on a three-pointer by Trey Elzey and a fast break layup by Patrick Belle.
Belle was fouled on the play but missed the free throw, and after a Central turnover, Laurel's Donte Penn missed a short shot from the baseline. The Knights took over from there, scoring 10 straight points, including 4 by Larry Bailey and 4 more by Andrew Weatherly.
Bailey, one of six Knights in double figures with 10 points, hit a free throw and a three-pointer to give Central a comfortable 73-64 lead with 43.9 seconds remaining.
The balance the Knights displayed Thursday night was a far cry from the team that struggled after two of its star players, Weatherly and Orlando Farrow, were kicked off the team for violating team rules last year.
The Knights won the Henlopen Conference title in 2001 under former coach Tim Slade and figured to be the favorites again in 2002, but the feud between Peden and his players resulted in an 11-12 record and a first round loss in the state tournament.
The season looked like it might head down the same path when Peden resigned in November. But Jones, an assistant with the Knights for the past four seasons, worked with athletic director Matt Donovan and Slade, now the school's assistant principal, in pre-season before being officially named head coach.
The result has been the Henlopen North lead with the first half of the season completed. In addition to beating Laurel, the Knights have also defeated all of their Henlopen North opponents, including defending conference champion Sussex Tech. Their only loss has been to defending Maryland state champion Wicomico High.
The Knights' balance was never more evident than against Laurel. With point guard Kyle White and off-guard Frank Roach spinning and twisting into the lane, Central put six players in double figures.
Besides Bailey and Weatherly, who finished with 11 points, the Knights got 16 points apiece from forwards Jamil Young and Frank Harris, 12 points from White and 11 more from Roach.
Laurel, meanwhile, didn't put on its best showing. Despite a season-high 25 points from standout forward Trey Elzey, who appears to be fully recovered from an early season ankle injury that sidelined him for several games, the Bulldogs couldn't put together the kind of run they needed to get back in the game.
Forward Troy Elzey and center Anton Ridley were also in double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively, but the Bulldogs missed a number of shots close to the basket that prevented them from pulling closer.
After falling behind 24-10 in the second period, the Bulldogs mounted their first rally to pull within 26-21 with 2:36 left before halftime on a fast break layup by Trey Elzey and a foul shot by guard Jackie Taylor.
The Knights responded, however, on a spinning layup by White and a fast break basket by Harris to go up 30-21 with 1:43 to go.
The Knights started the third period strong, too, as they stretched their lead to 44-30 on baskets by Harris and Roach. Laurel would cut the lead to 44-36 on a layup by Belle, but Young answered with two straight baskets and Harris dropped in a layup on a fast break started by a Roach steal for a 50-36 advantage with 1:50 left in the third period.
LAUREL (64) -- Trey Elzey 11 2-2 25, Anton Ridley 2 5-7 10, Jackie Taylor 1 0-2 2, Troy Elzey 6 3-5 15, Donte Penn 1 1-2 4, Patrick Belle 4 0-0 8, Antwan Ridley 0 0-0 0, Frank Stokes 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 25 11-18 64.
SUSSEX CENTRAL (79) -- Andrew Weatherly 5 0-0 11, Kyle White 5 1-2 12, Larry Bailey 4 1-3 10, Frank Roach 5 1-4 11, Jamil Young 5 6-6 16, A.J. Neal 1 0-0 2, Josh Ward 0 1-2 1. TOTALS 33 10-18 79.
Three-pointers: Laurel 3 (Trey Elzey, Anton Ridley,Penn); Sussex Central 3 (Weatherly, White, Bailey).
Sussex Central head coach Jerry Jones on his team's fast start against Laurel:
"Oh, we had to (get off to fast start). No matter who you're playing, if you can get an early lead, it always bodes well for you because the other team has to try and change up their game plan. They have a certain game plan. If we can get the lead, sometimes they have to change up their game plan. They played us zone to start out with. Once we got that big lead, it pulled them out. They went man to man the rest of the game. It made them change up their game plan and that's all we wanted to do -- make them try to play something they didn't want to."
Jones on his team's hustle:
"Our team has a lot of heart. They hustle. One thing we work on in practice is just constantly going after the ball. If there's a loose ball, we better get it, and my boys always try for it. My guards doing a great job of going after that ball."
Jones on his team's depth:
"I've said that those games where I can get my other players in to contribute, it's going to help us down the line and this is one of those games where it showed. Last week I managed to get a couple of games in where a lot of my bench played. It gives them minutes, it gives them confidence, and then I got confidence in them coming in and substituting for them (starters). If they have confidence, I have no problem because you can come in and if you don't have confidence in your game or your coach doesn't have confidence in your game, you know you're not going to be in for long."
Jones on the Knights' turnaround from a tumultuous 2001-2002 campaign:
"I've been an assistant coach here for four years so I know the system and I know the players, so it wasn't a really a new situation coming in. The kids all knew me, they knew what I was about, I knew what they were about and I knew what they could do. We didn't really have to adjust to each other too much. The players just had to each other and coming together on defense. Our key is we're going to play defense and we're going to get points off of our defense."
Jones on the team's goals this year:
"I think we just all see the same picture. I've got a vision and the boys have a vision. We all want to win. We all want to win badly. If everybody's on the same page with the same goals, I think you can accomplish a lot. We all see eye to eye, we all come together. If they do what I say, and they execute, there's not much more I can ask of them. You never know what to expect. With me taking over so soon, you didn't know what to expect. You just hope for the best. Luckily, thank the Lord all our dreams are working out right now. You can always hope for it, but you never know what to expect."
Jones on the first couple weeks of practice before he was named head coach:
"We all kind of contributed (aWe all kind of got a scheme of things together. We all said that with the kind of athletes we have we have to play defense first. Play defense, box out, and that is our key. We'll get points later. We'll run our offense later but if we play defense and box out, we'll get our points. Defense is going to be our key this year. The boys responded to it, they agreed with it, they love it, so that's what works."
Jones on sophomore forward Larry Bailey:
"Larry Bailey is a good ball player. He's one of my best shooters and he's only a sophomore, so what we need from him is to just come in and give us minutes. We usually sub him for Frank Harris. That way I always have one of my good shooters on the floor. He gives us quality minutes when we need them."
Central forward Frank Harris on this year's turn-around:
"I'm not really sure. We've got a lot of players back. We had a lot of discipline problems last year with Drew and Orlando, and then we got transfers with Jamil and A.J., and then we've got a lot of height this year, so we're just really starting to come together."
Harris on his performance this season:
"I'm shooting a lot better this year, playing a little bit better defense, just trying to get a lot of steals."
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