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Falcons’ offense, size bury Friday Harbor 67-43 for first win
LANGLEY — Keep shooting. The shots are going to fall.
That’s what South Whidbey High School head coach Henry Pope has been telling his boys basketball team.
Four days before Saturday’s game, the Falcons struggled offensively against Mount Baker and made 20.6 percent of their field goals.
Against Friday Harbor, the shots fell. The Falcons’ boys team won 67-43 behind aggressive defense and senior guard Riley Newman.
“It feels good,” Newman said. “We’ve been working our butts off in practice, and it finally pays off.”
Newman led all scorers with 19 points on two free throws and 8-of-12 field goals, including one three-point goal in the Falcons’ first win of the season.
“My team’s been moving the ball really well,” Newman said. “If we just keep moving it, I’ll get easy shots.”
Friday Harbor led 23-21 early in the second quarter until TJ Russell made a three-pointer to put South Whidbey ahead for the rest of the game. Russell finished with five points and four assists.
South Whidbey’s shots continued to fall, and the Falcons finished the first half on a 16-point run.
On the next offensive series, Newman and Russell connected on a trick play of sorts. Newman went to inbound the ball and stood holding it. He called to Russell as if he should come run the inbounds play.
With the defense off guard, Newman handed Russell the ball for an easy layup. On the other end of the court, Newman grabbed a rebound and ran basket-to-basket for a layup in traffic.
“He’s just hurt us the three years that we’ve played him now,” said Friday Harbor head coach Rod Turnbull. “So we were hoping that we could slow him down tonight.”
Newman wasn’t the only Falcon flying high during South Whidbey’s big run to end the first half.
Senior Sean George stole a pass and drove to the lane for a layup. Junior Zach Comfort got a pass in the low post from junior Sam Lee, felt the defender on his back, spun right, hit the layup and was fouled for a traditional three-point play.
At halftime, the Falcons led 37-23.
South Whidbey held Friday Harbor to 20 points in the second half, including only six points in the third quarter.
Pope used his team’s size to challenge and disrupt the Wolverines’ passing lanes, which led to transition points for his Falcons.
Even so, he was worried about his team’s slow defensive start, and pointed out the Falcons’ struggle with weak-side help.
“We really don’t do a lot of good weak-side help,” Pope said. “Once we got our weak-side help determined and also worked out who we got to pick up on defense versus trying to go for those steals, that’s what worked out for us.”
Pope used his team’s size to control the paint. Once he saw the Wolverines didn’t have a player taller than 6 feet, Pope knew his Falcons could win in the post.
“Once we saw them, we knew we’d have work to do down low,” senior co-captain Tyler “Chuck” Norris said. “I felt a little rushed at first, I don’t know why.”
Norris settled down and used his bulk to exploit a mismatch in the paint. Pope said his team is used to playing against taller teams and rushed to put up a shot in the paint. Once they collected themselves and took the time to make a good shot, the game changed. Norris connected on 6-of-11 field goals for 12 points and five rebounds.
Comfort had seven points and one rebound, but altered several shots as the Wolverines probed the paint for any room to make a play.
“We’re so short and slow, I mean our margin of error is not very big,” Turnbull said. “And it took about four minutes of this game for us to be up by two [points] to down by 13.”
Pope shouldered the burden for his team’s slow start on offense.
By the fourth practice, his team told him they were ready to start shooting instead of working on other aspects of the game. Now his team shoots at least 30 minutes every practice.
“I kind of take a little blame for that their shooting started kind of slow,” Pope said.
The shooting was on against Friday Harbor, and South Whidbey will rely on it as it heads into conference play. The win propelled the team into Tuesday’s match at South Whidbey High School against Cascade Conference opponent Lakewood. The Cougars hope to get their first win after starting the season 0-2 with losses to Bellingham High School, 42-39, and Burlington-Edison High School, 67-46.