Nobody should have hung their heads in the locker room after Wednesday night’s game between Wayne and Leo. That game was exactly what the doctor ordered because game two of each of the team’s seasons went a lot further is helping both establish long term identities than either of their first games did.
The final score said 49-39 in favor of Leo, but it was far closer than that. Which is ok. This is what they both needed, a game that will help shape who both teams can be moving forward.
There are still going to be two sides of the coin in the locker room and the next day as each prepares for their next game.
Leo will look at the lost rebounding war, giving up the dribble drive and not taking advantage of stops on the defensive end with scores on the offensive end. All fair. But the Lions roared back with ferocity and that is my focus looking at Leo moving forward. Because even though they should have scored more off defensive stops in the third and fourth quarter, they were still getting those stops; often at the rim. The Lions defense held a high fueled Wayne offense to just 39 points. Their perimeter play extended Wayne possessions much deeper into the clock than the Generals would probably like. Blake Davison, Ayden Ruble, Cameron Groves and Jackson McGee all played roles in keeping Wayne away from the rim. Once they got there, DJ Allen and Zack Troyer stayed long at the bucket, not trying to block shots or do anything fancy, just to get stops.
Those stops were huge. They piled up. And for a long time, it yielded little. But at the end, when it mattered, Leo had the confidence that they could stop anyone, which meant just three fourth quarter points for Wayne.
Leo then turned it up offensively, going on a 12-0 in the final three and half minutes to win the game by 10. That’s a microcosm of how last season went for Leo and they have to be ok with this season going too: you take some lumps early but ultimately have the confidence late to flip a switch and win the day. Last year it meant a Sectional title, Wednesday it meant a non conference win. Still the same ideals apply, Leo is right there and that is their identity as fighters. They fought behind their senior leader Davison (16 points), who had just an ok night as far as Davison standards go, but he never stopped ticking. The fought behind off guard Ruble who played intense minutes and got banged up a bit at the rim, but used his court vision in those moments to find free Lion shooters. They fought behind a freshman, McGee, who buried his first two triples before missing his next three shots, but never tuned out mentally.
The night also served as a wake up call for Leo’s biggest perceived strength. Wayne didn’t run scared from the interior duo of Allen in Troyer, the challenged them. That won’t be an every night occurrence. Some nights, teams are going to look at Allen and Troyer and think “nope, no, not gonna do that; not going to challenge them.” That is part of the benefit of their size being this perceived monster; end don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is some nights.
But other nights they are going to have scrap and claw, kind of like Wednesday. Troyer’s 7-of-12 shooting inside the arc was good, both of them crashing the offensive glass to put back each others misses was critical. It was a wake up call, or should be. Not every team will yield to this terrific duo but instead of collapsing, they have the maturity and toughness to fire back. Troyer finished the night with 15 points and five rebounds while Allen had eight points and seven rebounds.
Which brings me circling back to Wayne. The first thing coach Byron Pickens said to me after the game was the Lions are tough. True statement, but here is a spoiler for the season ahead: so is Wayne. To have the wherewithal to walk into a gym far across the city on a Wednesday and beat this Leo team on the glass 32-22 is no small task. Heart and assertiveness go a long way and so too will Christian Flannigan against SAC opponents after his 11 point, 11 rebound effort.
See, as much as Leo needed a good early season challenge, Wayne needed it too. The Generals, probably a bit surprisingly to some, rolled by Lakewood Park the night prior to the Leo game. They were likely on cloud nine and they needed pushed. If Wayne can play nightly like they played Leo for the first 28 minutes, even going on a 9-0 run of their own, put a lot of the teams on their schedule on upset alert. They hurt some feelings along the way last year and although they didn’t do it Wednesday, they certainly are indicating that they will do it to someone sooner than later.
Flannigan and Jashan Hargrave are two guys I’d hang my hat on coming out of this one if I were Pickens. Both displayed a solid grit and had a fighting spirit throughout, even when things got bad. One time in the game after a flaw, Wayne assistant coach Anthony Brewer stood up, looked at Hargrave (17 points, 6 rebounds) and just said “short memory.” And it almost immediately popped Hargrave out of a funk as he became probably Wayne’s most important weapon in the second half.
I can only imagine Brewer and Pickens both will be repeating the same thing to the whole team through the rest of the week: short memory. If they do that, let the loss on the scoreboard go and build off the successes they had Wednesday, Wayne’s going to be just fine.
That is the best part about early season basketball: that game ultimately won’t matter. But what will matter is how you accentuate the battles won throughout the game and build on them the rest of the season.
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