ORION -- While the importance of defending one's home court is always stressed, being able to win on the road consistently is the hallmark of a conference champion.|
Friday night, the Rockridge boys' basketball team took another step closer to the West Central North championship. Down by as many as four points in the first half and holding a slim one-point halftime lead, the Rockets got some third-quarter separation as they pulled away from the Chargers to earn a 65-44 victory and a 7-0 WCC North mark.
"You always protect your home court,'' said sophomore guard Bryan Heath, "but at the same time, you want to steal wins on the road.''
With Heath and junior guard T.J. Henry upping their games in that crucial third quarter, Rockridge (18-2) gave itself the momentum to come away with a key conference road victory. Heath scored nine of his game-high 23 points in that span, and Henry tallied 10 of his 12, including a pair of 3-pointers as the Rockets outscored Orion 23-6 and scored the period's final 12 points to build a 45-27 lead.
"The coaches told us about attacking on offense, driving and drawing fouls,'' said Heath. "We got a lot of people going to the rim and getting fouls, but they were also finishing their shots and getting extra points as a result.''
The first half was a much different story, though. With Orion senior sharpshooter Dylan Schultz nailing a pair of early 3-pointers, the Chargers (13-10, 1-5 WCC North) played Rockridge to a 13-13 draw in the first quarter. The hosts then worked their way to a 21-17 lead on a pair of Tyler Nelson free throws and a Schultz steal and bucket.
Even though Rockridge scored the final five points of the first half, with a steal and one-handed jam by junior standout Ethan Happ (21 points) capping the run to put the Rockets up 22-21 at intermission, Orion felt like it had momentum on its side.
"I thought we followed our game plan well,'' said Orion coach Brent Hutton, who got 20 points from Schultz and a 12-point outing from Nelson, with Dakota Grant adding five rebounds. "We took our time and got good shots. Defensively, we wanted to make them work for their shots, and we did that. Then, they stepped up their press and we didn't respond well.''
Forcing the Chargers into 19 turnovers while committing just eight themselves, the Rockets were sparked defensively by Henry's seven steals. He also added five rebounds, as did teammate Darren Southwell.
"I truly believe defense is the most important part of basketball,'' said Henry. "Our transition game, the stuff we do, it begins with defense.''
Even though his team's first-half efforts didn't carry over into the second half, Hutton saw what his team is capable of doing when getting great efforts.
"We are capable of playing at that level,'' he said, "but we've got to do it for 32 minutes, not 16. We have to be consistent for 32 minutes.''
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