LANGLEY — Defending was South Whidbey’s self-professed best asset Tuesday night.
Judging from the 66-46 loss to Cedarcrest, perhaps the Falcon boys’ defense left plenty to be desired.
“We guarded them as good as we could, especially when we don’t have a huge lineup,” said Falcon senior point guard Sam Turpin.
Cedarcrest (8-1 Cascade Conference; 8-7 overall) carved away at South Whidbey’s defense, hitting 12 three-point field goals, seven of which came in the first half. South Whidbey (1-8 Cascade Conference; 3-12 overall) began with a zone defense to limit Cedarcrest’s tall front court anchored by 6-4 senior center John Soule. But the Red Wolves knew how to beat a zone — make outside shots.
“Our defense has been the best thing we’ve had all year,” Turpin said. “Perimeter defense is hard, especially when a team as good as Cedarcrest will just backdoor us.”
“People get tired trying to run out and step in front of shots. If teams start making them, we will fall behind.”
The Red Wolves ran away from a 33-26 halftime lead in the third quarter. Behind a smothering press defense, Cedarcrest went on a 14-0 run that resulted in a 57-31 lead. During the spurt, the Red Wolves made two three pointers and scored seven points on turnovers.
“We started to turn the ball over trying to push it too much, making bad passes,” said Falcon sophomore Parker Collins.
South Whidbey controlled the lead only early in the first quarter. A free throw by Collins gave the Falcons one of their only leads, 1-0. Trailing 6-4, Falcon junior Brandon Asay scored a three pointer, one of only two by South Whidbey, that gave the Falcons their last lead.
Not to be outdone, Zach Taylor, one of the Cascade Conference’s leading scorers, answered with a quick jump shot that regained Cedarcrest’s lead for good. Taylor led all scorers with 20 points, including four three pointers.
Early in the second quarter, Cedarcrest took a 22-12 lead on junior Chris Cole’s three pointer. The possession that led to that shot was indicative of South Whidbey’s struggles: the Falcons failed to secure the rebound off Red Wolf freshman Xavier Turner’s miss, which went out of bounds off a cluster of Falcons under the basket.
“For us to be successful, it takes five smart kids to be on the basketball court at one time, and that’s really hard for us,” said Turpin, referring to South Whidbey’s lineup that relies on seven players.
South Whidbey chipped away at Cedarcrest’s lead to trail 30-24. Low-post looks by Falcon junior Nick French got South Whidbey back into the game as he scored 11 of his team-leading 14 points during South Whidbey’s 12-6 run, including three free throws.
But the third quarter belonged to the hungry Red Wolves, who extended their winning streak to three games. By the end of the third, South Whidbey trailed 59-35.
In the fourth quarter, South Whidbey stuck with its plan to look inside for scoring. On the Falcons’ first possession, Collins missed a short hook, grabbed his own rebound and was fouled as he put up another shot. He sank both free throws, which was one of South Whidbey’s strengths. The Falcons converted 16-of-22 free throws compared to the Red Wolves’ 4-of-7.
“We started to get to the line and get free throws, which just didn’t come at a great time for us,” Collins said.
South Whidbey looked ahead to its home game against Whidbey Island rival Coupeville on Friday night. In the previous meeting, South Whidbey torched Coupeville, 57-37. To qualify for the 1A playoffs, the Falcons needed to win, which would secure their position as the second 1A team from the Cascade Conference (which has only three total — King’s, Coupeville and South Whidbey).