Raiders think near, go far

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

FORT BRANCH — Saturday’s halftime talk was a bit like walking on eggshells for Southridge coach Jeremy Rauch.

The Raiders had shot quite poorly in the first half. Like, 6-of-29 poorly and 1-of-13 from 3-point range poorly. But Rauch wasn’t mad about the numbers. After all, how do you tell good shooters to not pull the trigger on an open shot?

“It’s a tough compromise,” Rauch admitted.

But who says there needs to be concession in the matter? All the Raiders needed to do, their coach felt, was get inside — the average height of Southridge’s starters is 6-foot-4, after all — and the rest, including the outside looks, will take care of itself.

While things got a bit chaotic in the final verses of Saturday’s Pocket Athletic Conference tilt in Fort Branch, Southridge’s 49-41 hurdling of host Gibson Southern proved to the Raiders that the biggest production often arrives when you think short. Range, that is.

“We toe that boundary of whether or not to shoot those (outside) shots, but I think we’ve got guys who are smart enough to realize that once they get a good kick-out or once they get themselves to the free throw line, once they get themselves going, that they’re going to knock it down,” Rauch said. “And when we started attacking, we just started seeing the ball go in. Shooting is just like any other game, it’s contagious.”

Egged on by the Titans’ 2-3 zone, the Raiders enjoyed the liberty of countless open looks from outside in the first half. Things didn’t go too well. In the second quarter, Southridge’s lowest scoring period (six points), the Raiders started with missed field goals on five of their first six possessions and their one made basket followed an offensive rebound.

During the intermission, Rauch and the coaching staff installed a revised offensive plan that primed more on getting into the paint. The key would be to deliver the ball to someone in the near corner, wait for the double team, then find someone cutting to the hoop.

“It seemed to work,” Southridge forward Cam O’Bryan said with a grin.

Facing a 22-16 halftime deficit, Southridge (6-2, 3-0) went to work. The Raiders added points on nine of their 12 possessions in the quarter, including a seven-possession span during which five different Raiders registered points. When Southridge forward Cody Thompson (10 points, eight rebounds) absorbed a double team in the right corner and found a cutting O’Bryan for an and-one layup with 3:24 left in the period, the Raiders relished in just their second lead of the contest at 28-26. When O’Bryan canned a pair of free throws with 49 seconds left in the third, the Raiders were on a 8-0 run that continued with five more unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

When Thompson bagged a 17-foot baseline jumper on the last of O’Bryan’s team-high five assists, Southridge had pulled off a 25-6 run after the break not only accented by a flurry of shots from around the cup but three triples as well.

After Gibson Southern (2-5, 0-2) tallied just one field goal — to go along with six free throws — in the first 121⁄2 minutes of the second half, the only wrench the Titans threw into the equation subbed into the ballgame with less than four minutes to play.

Titan reserve Shane Murphy, who collected 19 points in the preceding JV contest, hadn’t checked in to the varsity game until the end of the fourth quarter. Within 57 seconds, Murphy drilled three 3s on successive possessions — including a shot-plus-the-foul bomb on his first attempt — that made him Gibson Southern’s first (and only) double-digit scorer with 10 points.

While Southridge’s Henry Steckler connected on a pair of free throws with a minute to play, teammate Chad O’Bryan (13 points, eight rebounds) leaned over to Murphy with a question.

“Are you kidding me?” he recalled inquiring to the Titan junior.

Yet the late-game flux, which brought Gibson Southern to within 41-40 on Murphy’s final trey with 2:27 remaining, also underlined perhaps the Raiders’ most impressive trait against a Titan defense that pressured and trapped late in the game. Southridge coughed the ball up just six times despite entering the game averaging a tick more than 15 turnovers a contest.

“All week we’ve been working on handling pressure and handling the double-team, and I think that paid off,” said Cam O’Bryan, who finished with five points.

To boot, Southridge hit 13-of-17 free throws, a welcomed improvement from the team’s season average of 64 percent. Not to mention, one of the Raiders’ misses came when Chad O’Bryan had to endure a disturbingly realistic dog bark enacted by a Gibson Southern student in the fourth quarter.

Rauch lauded the poise of point guard Conner Craig “in terms of being the point guard, distributing the basketball, keeping the ball away from trouble and not overdribbling.” The coach gave kudos to Evan Julian (six points) and Steckler as well for contributing quality minutes and for their roles in forcing Gibson Southern into 31 percent shooting on the night.

“(Gibson Southern) threw up some shots where I don’t even think they knew where the rim was and they knocked it down, and an immature team could have folded, could have given the ball to them one or two more times on a turnover, could have missed a couple more free throws,” Rauch said. “But we finished the game with a lot more poise than we’ve seen. And I think that’s a sign of this team growing.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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