For a team struggling mightily in the last few games coming out of the locker room in the second half, Andy Hill could see that coming again from his Jeff County team on Friday night and decided to make a change.
Walking into the locker room at the break with his team trailing by three to Morristown West after getting out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter, Hill saw shoulders slouching, chests caving and heads down.
Because of this, Hill came up with a change to their halftime routine as he looked for anything to reverse the trend.
He forced his team to stand for the entire halftime.
Whether that worked or not, the Patriots came out inspired in the second half, outscoring the Trojans 38-26 on their way to a 57-48 victory.
“I don’t know if that made a difference, but I saw their shoulders slumped and chests caving in and I told them that we weren’t going to have that tonight,” Hill said. “We’re going to stand up, get our chests out and shoulders up and we’re going to go over the three things that we need to go out and do that we didn’t do in the second quarter.”
The win came on Senior Night for the Patriots, and Hill started five of his six Seniors to honor them. While four of them normally start for Hill, it was the another Senior that jump started the Patriots and made the most of his opportunity.
Jace Dobbins, who was injured to start the season and has seen limited playing time since returning, scored 13 points against the Trojans including nine in the second half.
“He’s had some opportunities this year, but we have questioned as a staff if we have given him enough time and opportunities,” Hill said. “He had an ankle injury in the summer and hadn’t played the past couple of years, so you have to build trust. He built a lot of it tonight.
“I was not surprised by how he played. He has shown he can do some good things. He just hasn’t been given the extended run that he did tonight. He got that opportunity and made the most of it.”
For Morristown West, it’s an unfortunate loss as they were looking to keep pace in the district title race. While the Trojans put together a strong second quarter, out-scoring the Patriots 16-3, it wasn’t enough as West struggled to put the ball in the hoop.
“I have to do a much better job to make sure our team is ready to play,” Morristown West coach Joe Dobyns said. “That game is all on me. For whatever reason, we just didn’t seem like we were ready to play tonight at times. And that’s on me. I have to do a better job of making sure we are ready.”
West was led in the game by their post players, Tory House and Jalen McCullough, as House finished with 21 and McCullough had 15. It’s the third straight strong showing for McCullough as he has scored 43 points in those three games.
“Our size is one of our advantages,” Dobyns said. “We try and take advantage of that every game. I have to do a better job of finding ways to get them the ball in the paint so they can score.”
Other scorers for West were Ty Steisslinger with five, Bereket Evans with five, Bricyn Gudger with one and Alban Oruglica with one.
Along with Dobbins for Jeff County, Senior Cy Mincey led the team with 15 points. Mincey had 13 points in the second half, including eight in the final eight minutes.
“I just told him to be patient and stick to what we needed to do to win,” Hill said. “He settled down and was able to do that. He got some key buckets when they were gambling and trying to turn us over. Once he settled in and found his spots, he came through big.”
Other scorers for Jeff County were Kohl Bonura with 10, Vontez McCray with six, Talan Higgins with six, Ben Chandler with five and Kip Parker with two.
With the win, Jeff County improved to 1-3 in district play while Morristown West fell to 2-2.
Much like the girls’ game, it was back-and-forth to start with the two teams tied at three and six before Jeff County scored the final 10 points to lead 16-6 after one. During the run, Mincey scored, McCray hit a three and Chandler had five points.
In the second, the game turned as West scored the first five points to make it 16-11. Jeff County scored with Higgins and then got a free throw from Dobbins to make it 19-13, but that was the final time the Patriots scored before the half.
During West’s 9-0 run that put them up 22-19 at the half, McCullough had six points while House converted a critical old-fashioned 3-point play with 11 seconds to go that put the Trojans up three.
“I thought we defended a little bit and sat down and guarded them,” Dobyns said about the second quarter. “We didn’t defend near as well in the second half and tried to press, which we haven’t done a lot this year. That’s my fault; I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
In the second half, Jeff County came out on fire as Dobbins tied the game with a 3-pointer and Mincey hit a trey to give the Patriots the lead back. Dobbins hit one more three later to make it 30-24, and McCray got in on the fun with a three that pushed the lead to seven. House tried to fight back for West with seven points that cut the lead to two late in the quarter, but Bonura scored to make it 37-33 after three.
Much like the third quarter, the Patriots came out on fire in the fourth quarter and got up 42-33. West would get the lead down to six twice in the quarter, but that was the closest they would get as Jeff County attacked the Trojans press and got easy buckets for the victory.
“It was extremely important,” Hill said about the win. “They’re all important. But we all knew the importance of this game. I don’t know how many people expected us to win, but I looked in their eyes before the game and told them that we expect to win. Our staff and us as a program. We prepared the right way and felt really good in the shoot-around… Our kids sacrificed for each other and were selfless and that was evident in the performance.”
Jeff County will be back in action on Monday against David Crockett.
Morristown West will be back in action on Monday as they travel to TKA. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m.