LANGLEY — One Sultan player and one play highlighted South Whidbey’s struggles this season.
Turk senior Brock VandenEkart brought the ball up the court, where he was met by the Falcon boys basketball team’s man-to-man defense. On the perimeter, it was 6-4 Falcon junior Brandon Asay’s job to defend VandenEkart. Dribbling, VandenEkart watched the Turks’ offense unfold. Asay gave him a step, not wanting to let the Turks’ leading scorer blow by him to the rim. Instead, VandenEkart pulled up for a three that snapped through the net, giving Sultan its largest lead of the first half, 29-21.
“All season long we’ve had a really hard time in the third quarter … we just aren’t able to keep up. I think sometimes the guys, myself included, come out content being close or only down a little.”
South Whidbey never led Friday night in the 60-44 loss, the Falcons’ third consecutive and 13th by double digits. VandenEkart dismantled the Falcon defense with dribble-drives to the hoop, pull-up jump shots and three-point field goals. The Falcons (2-10 Cascade Conference; 4-15 overall) lack a go-to player, someone who can create a shot for himself and get to the rim at will, or a shutdown defender. And when an offense is as out-of-sync as South Whidbey’s has been, a go-to guy can bail it out of a poor possession.
On Friday, VandenEkart and Steven Branham were those guys for Sultan.
“Brock’s a great player,” said Simmons, who was often the primary defender on VandenEkart. “He’s definitely one of the best, if not the best, players in the league.”
“He was sinking his shots, I was very impressed by his play tonight.”
South Whidbey, however, turned the ball over too often to rely on its half-court offense powered by forwards Nick French and Parker Collins.
Despite the final blowout score, South Whidbey trailed only three points at halftime. The Falcons were tied with the Turks early at 8-8, South Whidbey’s only tie of the game. Sultan closed the first quarter on an 8-2 run and closed with back-to-back Turk possessions, thanks to a steal by VandenEkart.
Trailing 29-21 in the second quarter, South Whidbey looked like the game would slip from its grip early. But the Falcons recovered from their own errors by creating turnovers and hitting their free throws. Asay, who scored 10 points, accounted for the Falcons’ final points of the first half with two free throws and a three-point field goal against Sultan’s zone defense.
French hit an elbow jump shot to cut the lead to 29-28 on South Whidbey’s first possession. It was the closest the Falcons came the rest of the night. A blocked shot and a shot clock violation denied South Whidbey two scoring attempts and resulted in a Sultan three pointer. On the tireless rebounding of French, who scored a team-high 12 points, and Collins (8 points), the Falcons hung around a few more possessions, getting as close as 36-32. But the Turks went on a 7-0 scoring run spurred by another shot clock violation, a steal and two missed three-point shots by Falcons.
Sultan ran away in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points. VandenEkart led the way with 10 of his game-high 26 points in the final eight-minute period.
Free throws were again a boon for South Whidbey in its losing effort. The Falcons converted 18-of-23 free throws, compared to the Turks, who made 9-of-15. But Sultan overcame infrequent trips to the charity stripe with hot perimeter shooting; the Turks made five three-point field goals.
“I’m definitely sick and tired of losing. I’d like to get at least one more conference win other than Coupeville,” Simmons said.