Storm of 'D’ best way for Raiders to say I’m sorry

Herald Sports Editor

HUNTINGBURG — When your level of effort and execution prompt your coach to try and break a clipboard over his knee, you’d better atone for it somehow.

Safe to say, Southridge did. The second half Thursday night was like one big, long apology. And it was the basketball equivalent of roses, chocolates and a life-sized stuffed teddy bear — the Raiders went over the top to make reparations.

Southridge ditched Wood Memorial 54-36, leading by just one point at halftime before a swell of defensive pressure created a pile of easy buckets and a runaway effort at Huntingburg Memorial Gym. Southridge coach Jeremy Rauch seemed willing to pardon his guys for the first-half grogginess thanks to their spunky final two quarters. He was generally forgiving, though Rauch noted Thursday was the continuation of a recent pattern: the lights appear off for Southridge for part of the night, and the other part they operate with lights-out precision.

“I think that’s where we’ve been for the last few games: We’ve played well enough to win, and poorly enough to realize we’ve got to get better. That’s kind of where we’re at right now, and we’ll take it,” Rauch said. “But in one game, I think we saw how bad we can be and we saw how good we can be. We can be really, really good and there’s times where we’ve been at championship level, and for a little while in the third quarter, I think we reached that tonight.”

Rauch outlined two reasons to his guys why they should pounce from the get-go. He didn’t want a tight game late, because Rauch respected Wood Memorial’s Conner Sevier for being the type of player that can finish close-range buckets and keep a team in a game all on his own. But Rauch didn’t expect that scenario, since he thought the Raiders (14-4) could prey on a Trojan team with weaker guard play.

In the first half, though, the Trojans passed out of traps effectively, said Rauch, who regretted that his team didn’t swarm aggressively enough. Wood Memorial’s on-ball defensive pressure rattled Southridge, too, noted Rauch, who saw the Raiders’ timing suffer as a result.

“They moved faster than us,” said Rauch, who angrily requested a timeout as the Raiders shuffled through a listless offensive set in the second quarter, first taking the clipboard over his knee, then slamming it to the ground.

“A lot of things, mostly mental,” Rauch added.

“We weren’t playing up to our abilities like we could, and we all knew that,” said Raider guard Connor Craig, who notched a career-best 19 points. “He had to light a fire under us a little bit to get us going. Our seniors, they helped us a lot, I tried to get us going, and the second half, we came out, we knew we had to get up in ’em and not allow drives as much, cut off baseline, just go from there.”

Craig and Evan Julian emerged as the ringleaders of a defensive whirlwind. It flipped control to the Raiders practically in a snap.

Southridge abandoned its matchup zone, and Rauch noted how effective the Raiders were defensively for the game’s remainder considering the Raiders hadn’t played straight man-to-man defense for the last seven games. Julian pocketed six steals on the night, including two in the final 40 second of the third quarter that he transformed into a basket-plus-foul drive plus another layup.

And when Julian hustled back after that latter bucket to swat yet another pass out of bounds and prevent Wood Memorial (7-12) from generating a good look at the end of the quarter, Rauch roared his approval and directed an animated round of applause Julian’s way.

“Once you get one, I guess they all start coming,” Julian said of his steals. “You’ve just got to anticipate, read eyes, read shoulders.”

Then it was Craig’s turn. He thieved the ball on Wood Memorial’s first three series of the fourth quarter — including a strip of Sevier as the junior center, who totaled 19 points and 10 rebounds, was wheeling toward the bucket.

“Behaviors are contagious,” said Rauch, whose team grabbed nine steals in the first 101⁄2 minutes of game time in the second half. “Connor gets a couple deflections, Cam (O’Bryan) gets a steal, and now we’re starting to play some pretty good basketball. It led to good offense.”

Chad O’Bryan netted 12 points despite foul trouble, and Julian, Cody Thompson and Gaage Fetter each added six points. Thompson was limited to a season-low point total but gathered eight rebounds and three assists.

If the sum of the second-half productivity wasn’t enough to change Rauch’s mood, one sensational play alone could have made him forget all about the earlier missteps.

Two minutes into the second half, Craig streaked downcourt after Chad O’Bryan hauled in a rebound. From nearly underneath the Trojans’ basket, O’Bryan chucked a pinpoint strike to his teammate at the opposite end as “Chad showed off his pitching arm,” Craig said of the Raider baseball team’s top hurler.

The finish was equally dazzling. Mauled by a defender as he went up for the shot, Craig flipped the ball over his head and hit the deck. Whistle, swish, three-point play.

“I just threw it up, hope it went in,” Craig shrugged.

“That was crazy,” Rauch said, smiling. “That was something.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

More on