Zone defense isn’t something that’s often associated with Davenport Central basketball.
For years, the Blue Devils have lived and died by pressing, scrambling, man-to-man defense.
But Friday night they played 32 minutes of zone, befuddled Davenport Assumption in the process and grabbed the upper hand in the battle for second place in the Mississippi Athletic Conference.
The Devils held MAC scoring leader Sean Peeters scoreless until the middle of the third quarter and rolled to a 48-37 victory over the state’s No. 3-ranked Class 3A team at George Marshall Gym.
"We’ve kind of been off and on with it," Central coach Craig Wurdinger said of the zone. "We’ve played around with it in practice a little bit and we knew Peeters was going to be a tough matchup. We thought we’d try this, and it worked tonight."
The Blue Devils (14-5, 12-3 MAC) got off to a fast start and opened a double-digit lead by scoring the first 10 points of the second quarter. By halftime, they led 26-13 against a team that defeated them by 11 in mid-January.
"In the first half we really just came out and got on them, and that helped us a lot," said senior guard John Miller, who scored 10 of his 11 points before halftime. "We know what they did to us last time at Assumption so we just came out and gave them the first punch."
The zone was a big factor in that start. Assumption got off only six 2-point shots in the first half, settling for 13 3-point tries.
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The 6-foot-4 Peeters, who averages 22.9 points per game and was described by Central forward Dajion Greer as a "one-man wrecking crew," was 0 for 5 from the field in the half.
"I think we made it a little bit harder on ourselves than it needed to be," said Assumption coach Matt Fitzpatrick, who admitted to being surprised by the zone tactics.
"I think we missed a lot of open people, just simple passes. Guys were wide open and we’ve just got to throw the ball and trust the offense and attack gaps, pass it on to the open people and kind of probe it a little bit. We just did not share the ball very well at all."
Peeters finally got going after halftime and scored his first points of the game with 3 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the third quarter. He ended up with 13 points to tie Ray Tucker for Assumption scoring honors, but the Knights (15-4, 10-4 MAC) never were able to get within seven points in the second half.
Central finished them off when Emarion Ellis and Kaiden Phillips combined to score the first nine points of the fourth quarter.
Ellis led both teams with 16 points and the Devils got surprising contributions from Greer, who knocked down his eighth and ninth 3-pointers of the season in the first quarter. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
"My teammates are confident in me shooting them," Greer said. "They just keep on telling me to shoot, find the rhythm."
Wurdinger described the 5-11 Greer as "kind of a garbage guy" who generally does a lot of little things without piling up big stats.
"He gave us a little bit more, and it’s good to have guys like that step up and pick up the slack for the other guys," Wurdinger said. "It was good to see from him."