By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - The month of January is usually when Handley gets its basketball legs.
It's become almost a rite of passage that the Judges will begin hoops late, due to so many of their players wearing pads during the football season. Handley was the last area team to begin its season and Tuesday night's game at Skyline was only the Judges' fourth overall.
With eight players trading tackles and running plays for zone defenses and jump shots, the transition will likely take a few weeks.
Or, perhaps not. The Judges could at least be happy with much of what came out of their 70-45 victory over the Hawks in the two teams Northwestern District opener, with the middle periods showcasing just how deep and fast Handley still is.
"I was happy with what we did in the second quarter and the third quarter [combined 46 points], but we still have these lapses where we don't figure out what we need to do," Handley coach Tommy Dixon said. "We had a chance to work on a lot of things. We put in some things -- even on the run -- and had a chance to look at some things we wanted to do. Some of them we did right, some of them we did wrong, but that's why we've got a few more games to get it right."
The Judges ran the floor often and swung the ball well, which led to lots of shots in close. Handley shot 52 percent (28-of-54) from the field and got Skyline to play a fast pace. Perhaps, a little too fast.
"We hadn't seen that kind of speed in practice, [or] in games," Skyline coach Sonny Dyke said. "It was a real eye-opening experience for our kids that hadn't played against that kind of [speed]."
Handley was holding on to a five-point lead before turning up pressure on defense and quickly breaking to a comfortable lead by halftime.
With 2:58 left, senior David Carter, a key reserve last season, broke inside for a stickback and was fouled. He completed his three-point play to send the lead to eight.
A free throw apiece from Robbie Lawler and Delroy McDaniel got the lead to double-digits, then Lawler got a steal and turned it into points.
In the final two minutes, Carter made two free throws and scored off another missed shot, McDaniel made two free throws, Lawler scored off a drive and completed another three-point play after getting fouled, and Mitch Smith completed an 18-5 run to close the half with a jumper for a 40-22 Handley lead.
"The biggest thing for us was we changed up our defenses a lot," Smith said. "That got them a little out of sync."
Carter scored all 11 of his points in the first half and nine in a second period that saw Handley (2-2, 1-0) score 27 points. Unfortunately, Carter went down with an injury on his left shin and did not return to the game. His status for the rest of the Judges' busy week -- which includes four games -- was unknown afterward.
"We were trying to get [Carter] established because he hasn't felt good about anything he's done [so far]," Dixon said. "We were trying to get him the ball in key spots."
Not content to sit on a big lead, Handley came out and played a strong third period. Terrance Sloane, Smith, and Lawler all scored in the first two minutes and forced a Skyline timeout.
Later in the period, on an inbounds play, Sloane jumped for a lob from Lawler for a slam dunk, much to the delight of his teammates.
"That out of bounds play, the dunk Terence Sloane had, that got the team going," Smith said. "Everyone just rose up and everyone just started contributing."
The overall scoring of Smith, another senior who saw valuable minutes off the bench last season, was a plus. Smith hit his final eight shots from the field and 9-of-15 overall for a game-high 19 points against the Hawks.
Lawler added 16 points and Sloane had eight.
After Sloane's dunk, the Judges never let their lead slip under 20 again. Handley continued to force tough shots, and Skyline never got on track. The Hawks (1-5, 0-1) shot just 32 percent (15-of-47) from the field and also finished with 21 turnovers.
"We took way too many 3's, but a lot of that is not being able to get in an offense," Dyke said. "But we can take some positives from the game. That was the first time we've played against a team that really threw everything at us."
Cameron Taylor scored all of his team-high 12 points in the first half. Cliff Woodard made a trio of 3-pointers and scored all 11 of his points after the break, and Ryan Dyke scored all nine of his points from behind the arc.
"They're good shooters and we told our guys that," Dixon said. "We told them they had to get up on them [defensively], and I think they did."