Raiders roll with hearty helping of 'D’December 30, 2013
By JOSEPH FANELLI
Herald Sports Writer
ELNORA — Dribbling toward the Southridge boys basketball team must be a bit like walking into the cage of a wild animal.
It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be intense and it might get a little painful.
Although, sometimes that goes both ways.
Just ask Southridge reserve Harrison Steckler, who went down after taking an elbow to the dome during the Raiders’ 56-41 win over North Posey for a fifth-place finish at the annual Graber Post Buildings Classic on Saturday in Elnora.
“He went in there and battled,” Southridge coach Jeremy Rauch said. “I guess that’s just what happens sometimes.”
Steckler eventually walked off the floor and was tested by the team’s trainer for a possible concussion, but as Rauch pointed out, sometimes that’s the price one pays for the particular brand of basketball the Raiders strive toward and a style North Posey might soon wish to forget.
The Raiders (5-2) pounced on the Vikings (2-6) early with frenetic ball pressure that led to 14 North Posey turnovers and 10 steals for Southridge in a game the Raiders led by double digits from the six-minute mark in the second quarter until the final buzzer.
“We try to hit them in the mouth early, as Coach would say,” Raider guard Evan Julian said.
It was another impressive defensive effort from a Raider squad that has not allowed any team to score in the 60s all season. In its five wins, the Raiders are arresting teams to 42.6 points a game. Class 3A No. 5 Brownstown Central is the only team to score more than 55 points against the Raiders when the Braves surpassed Southridge 57-39 two days before Christmas.
But any chance the Vikings had of replicating that loss from the Raiders’ tournament opener vanished quickly when Southridge caused three turnovers on North Posey’s first three possessions. Southridge jumped to an early 18-10 lead with help from Chad O’Bryan, who notched eight points with just one miss in the quarter on his way to a game-high 18 points.
But if the production from O’Bryan has become expected — he’s averaging 15 points a game this season — it was the quietly impressive game from Julian that came as a well-received surprise.
The junior scored eight points, dished out three assists and grabbed three steals — one a leaping interception near the three-point line that he took the opposite way for an easy layup.
“(He was) disrupting things,” Rauch said of Julian, who received his second start of the season after jumping into the starting lineup the prior game against Clay City. “Even if it wasn’t on the stat sheet, he got a lot deflections, he kind of disrupted a lot of shots. He’s got a good understanding of the game and I think he played a good defensive game.”
On multiple occasions, the 6-foot-4 Julian was able to deflect balls out of bounds or into his teammates’ hands for steals.
His coach calls it basketball intelligence; Julian says height goes a long way.
“Well, my long arms help a little bit,” he said.
Julian’s contributions — whether as a scorer or through his passing or defense — is especially crucial for a team still trying to develop the pieces around its two returning starters, O’Bryan and Cody Thompson (10 points, eight rebounds). A double-digit scoring night from the senior duo is almost a guarantee — as well as solid input from point guard Connor Craig (10 points). Adding a presence like Julian’s is just another plus.
“That’s big,” Rauch said about Julian’s performance. “We believe we have a lot of guys that can be weapons, but at the same time it starts on our defense.”
That defense showed small lapses in the second half when, after holding the Vikings to just two points in the second quarter, Southridge allowed North Posey’s Michael Bender to score 10 points in the third, including back-to-back 3-pointers. A refresher course on ball security might be in order as well, as the Raiders coughed up 10 second-half turnovers, but all in all, Rauch was pleased with his team’s energy, especially defensively. Even up by 20 points in the third quarter, Raider players were still diving to the floor and hustling after rebounds and loose balls.
“The nice thing is that (the effort) starts at the top and the coaches hold them accountable, but when you get to a point ... when your best players are not only doing it, but demanding it, then you really have something, and I think we’re getting there,” Rauch said.
The Raiders ended their first visit to the Graber Post Buildings Classic with two straight wins for a fifth-place finish, but more valuable was the experience gained for a Raider team Rauch said is beginning to display some fortitude.
“We were satisfied,” Rauch said. “We wanted to go around and see different teams and we ended up playing a conference opponent and that’s just how it goes sometimes. But we saw a different style and that prepared us for teams coming up and I thought we grew up. I thought we had a lot of resilience and I think we saw some weaknesses we have to improve, and now we just have to go on and improve on them.”
Contact Joseph Fanelli at email@example.com.
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