By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- To get used to what he knew was coming, Strasburg boys basketball coach Millson French went over some of the finer points of Page County's pressure defense with his team during a Saturday morning shoot-around.
When facing the Panthers later in the day, the Rams found out what their coach was talking about.
Page County opened a 17-point lead by the end of the first quarter and wound up with 31 points off turnovers to squash Strasburg 58-32 in a non-district game.
"They had a 23-6 lead at the end of the first quarter and they didn't score near as much after that," French said. "But we kept turning it over and giving them too many opportunities.
"They had us in disarray on the defensive end [too]. You just can't play that way. That press really bothered us. Even when we got good shots, we'd miss them. And we shot fast. It would be one thing if they're going in, but if you shoot [and miss], you're back on defense again."
The Panthers (2-2) showcased a full-court man press, with the occasional double-team thrown in. Even in the half-court, the Panthers often had a hand in the face of shooters.
Page County scored the game's first five points and had a 14-2 lead by the time French used his first timeout with 2:42 left.
Thriving off its defense, Page County scored 13 points off 10 turnovers in the first period, including senior point guard Tyler Jenkins' 3-point play in transition for the final points of the period.
Page County coach Mike Purdham didn't have to search for an answer to describe what had been key for his team's success.
"I think it was our defensive intensity early," Purdham said. "We've started games pretty well this year. What I was pleased with more so was how we finished it. We carried that intensity throughout the game and there was no let-up. I thought that was the biggest difference."
Without a player standing taller than 6-foot-2, the Panthers had to use their quickness and smarts in the open-court to wear down the Rams (1-2).
Page County rotated its players in well in an attempt to stay as fresh as possible. In opening a 38-12 lead by the break, the Panthers received points from eight players. Page County had 9-0 and 10-0 runs in the first half, the latter concluded on a free throw from Trevor Parker at the 4:16 mark of the second period to move out to a 28-6 lead.
The Panthers closed the half by scoring the last six points, and shot 49 percent from the field in the first half and forced 17 turnovers over that time.
"All our kids are at the same speed and [nearly the] same height," Purdham said. "We're not going to be able to keep it at a quarter-court game or half-court game. We've got to utilize our strengths, and [quickness] is one of them."
All told, 16 of the Panthers' 22 made field goals in the game either came off layups or stickbacks.
"They're really talented offensively," French said. "Individually, they can really put the ball on the floor and they pass well. And they shoot it well.
"But, again, the thing that really killed us was that press. We did not execute against that at all."
To help his team have a little better flow over the course of the game, Purdham moved Jenkins to the point to give him the challenge of leading.
Taking on that kind of responsibility worked out well for Jenkins, a starter at shooting guard since the start of his junior season. Jenkins was everywhere, stripping from behind and front for steals (game-high six), running the floor smoothly and spotting open shooters (game-high six assists), and driving the lane with a quick first-step for points (game-high 13, all in the first half).
"He's always been our shooting guard or on the wing," Purdham said. "I wanted to bring out the leadership qualities that he's got. He has leadership qualities I didn't think we were getting out of him being at off-guard. I told him right after the game that I was pleased with how he handled himself."
A pair of three-point losses to Turner Ashby (when the they blew a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead) and Madison County, respectively, stung the Panthers in their first couple games. But a lopsided affair with the Rams offered Page County a chance to get more players involved in the scoring.
The Panthers got points from nine of their 10 players. Austin Painter had 11 points, Keith Short had eight, and Pete Monteleone had seven.
"They're buying into each other and they're starting to come together now," said Purdham, who lost several key players from last season's Region B tournament squad. "I think the guys are filling their roles and gelling together. We've had some bumps in the road, but I think that's kind of what brought out our [good] effort tonight."
The Rams did play even with the Panthers after halftime, with each team scoring 20 points. Strasburg finished the game with 28 turnovers and shot just 33 percent (14-of-42) from the field.
For the second straight game, no Ram reached double-digit scoring. Jordan Williams led Strasburg with eight points.