Cold-shooting night downs Falcons before Winter Break

Falcon junior Taylor Simmons scrambles for a loose ball against Turk junior Steven Branham.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon junior Taylor Simmons scrambles for a loose ball against Turk junior Steven Branham.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Baby, it’s cold outside the key for the South Whidbey boys basketball team.

Against the Sultan Turks on Tuesday, the Falcons missed every three-pointer in a 40-33 loss.

A size advantage didn’t help the Falcons as much as the coaches thought it would, and South Whidbey only had six free-throw attempts against Sultan’s 18, none more important than the 12 taken in the fourth quarter.

“They wanted it more than us. They got after the ball. They were going for rebounds,” said Falcon senior forward Zach Comfort.

“We didn’t have enough desire for the basketball and that’s what made the difference,” he said.

An early Falcon lead slipped away almost as quickly as it happened. Turk junior Brock VandenEkart hit a three to tie the score 6-6 in the first quarter.

Turk sophomore Cooper Beucherie scored a fast-break layup for an 8-6 lead. South Whidbey committed two turnovers in the closing two minutes and didn’t attempt a shot.

On the final possession of the first quarter, VandenEkart was fouled on a drive and made both free throws to lead 12-8.

“We called several plays tonight where we only got to the first pass,” said Falcon head coach Henry Pope.

Scoring sputtered for South Whidbey in the second quarter.

On the Falcons’ first play, reserve junior guard Guy Sparkman passed the ball into the arms of a waiting Turk defender. Turk senior forward Jaden Reilly aired a three-pointer which led to a putback by Comfort, 12-10.

Pope then called for the Falcons to play a full-court press defense, which led to an over-and-back turnover by the Turks, who like the Falcons have only two seniors.

The Falcons returned to the Erikson Gym version of Old Faithful: Comfort.

On South Whidbey’s next possession, Comfort caught a pass in the key, wriggled through two defenders and scored a layup to tie 12-12. That basket was the final field goal the Falcons scored in the first half.

Defensive pressure again created turnovers for South Whidbey, this time a steal by Comfort, which was negated by a traveling call on Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee. The Turks changed their defensive strategy, too, and focused on double teaming Comfort.

“I thought we did a good job adjusting and we were able to find their big kid even in our zone and trap (defenses),” said Turk head coach Nate Trichler. “Keeping the big kid off the glass and everything is hard to do in a zone and trap, and we were able to do that.”

While the Falcons’ inside game stalled, the outside game never started.

The next four Falcon possessions resulted in zero points: an airball, a missed three, a missed layup and a blocked layup. Sultan went on an 8-0 run, capped by an off-balance floater by VandenEkart as the buzzer sounded.

“We need to be a little more disciplined on offense,” Lee said. “The outside shots we were getting were contested.

They were shots we were settling for, instead of the shots that we wanted.”

Sultan whooped and hollered as it headed into the locker room for halftime. South Whidbey sat on the benches, bewildered with an 0-for-3 in three-pointers, seven-turnover first half.

At the start of the second half, the Falcons’ problems seemed to be the same. The first play resulted in a South Whidbey turnover, which was quickly saved by Lee’s steal and breakaway layup to end a five-minute scoring drought.

After a previous loss, Lee said that as a captain, he needed to take more shots and score more. Through the first two quarters, he had only two points. He erupted in the third quarter to score the rest of his team-high 14 points and bring the Falcons within a couple of baskets of the lead.

“Breaking my guy down was a big part of it,” Lee said. “I’m pretty good off the dribble, that’s kind of my game, slashing, pulling up. He was kind of slacking off of me. They were looking at Zach as our main offensive threat.”

Falcon reserve junior forward Andrew Holt kept the score at 28-24. On the Turks’ last two drives of the third quarter, Holt blocked two shots.

Points in the paint were few and far between for the Turks as they were repelled by the 6-foot-8 Comfort and the 6-foot-4 Holt.

“Our defense is what keeps us in close games because we can’t execute our offense,” Comfort said. “Until we get better at finishing our shots that’s what we’ll have to keep solid.”

Excellent free-throw shooting iced the game for Sultan. The Turks were 10-of-12 from the line in the fourth quarter; the Falcons were only 1-of-2.

South Whidbey attempted to make a run, but the shots weren’t falling, exemplified by Falcon junior Josh Bishop’s in-and-out three-pointer with two minutes left that would have cut the lead to three points.

“The perimeter game is second to the inside big man,” Lee said. “You can’t live and die by the three. That’s not a way to win games.

“It was kind of a cold night for us. We need to be ready when we come onto the floor.”

Frustration with a struggling team mounted for the coaches. South Whidbey spent almost 15 minutes in a team meeting after the game, and the players and coaches gave no kudos for effort or progress afterward.

“We were a team of spectators tonight,” Pope said. “We got out-hustled, out-rebounded by a shorter team, out-executed. It’s a game we should have won — easily should have won.”

“We had a couple guys out there showing passion,” he added. “And we had other guys just passing and standing.”

The mood was obviously brighter on the Sultan side.

“We’re learning to win,” said Trichler. “Young teams have trouble winning. We started 0-4 and now it’s two wins in a row.”

South Whidbey will have to wait three weeks before it has another chance to win its first Cascade Conference game.

The Falcons journeyed south to Seaside, Ore. for the Seaside Holiday Classic basketball tournament. This is the second year South Whidbey has competed in the roundball tourney, and last year the Falcons won the championship in three straight victories.

Despite the early season struggles, the Falcons want to repeat as tournament champions.

“We’re going down there and they don’t know us,” Lee said. “They know us as the team that came down last year and kicked everybody’s butts.”

This year, the road trip has relevance beyond team bonding.

“In Seaside, we’re going to find out who wants it more,” Pope said.


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