By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- It has been an established fact that if James Wood's boys basketball team can hit its 3-pointers, the Colonels are tough to beat.
On Friday, however, the Colonels were just 8 of 47 from beyond the 3-point line against Millbrook and the Pioneers crushed James Wood 80-65 in a Northwestern District matchup.
"We really had a bad night from the field and we really didn't play that well," Colonels coach Al Smith said. "We can't have a night like this shooting 3s and expect to win. It was just not a good night shooting the ball."
Millbrook had something to do with James Wood's inability to hit their field goals. The Pioneers played nearly flawless defense against the Colonels, allowing just one shot each trip down the floor, and that was usually not a high-percentage shot.
The Millbrook defense also gave James Wood, which runs an aggressive full-court press the entire game, a taste of its own medicine by forcing 10 Colonels' turnovers in the first quarter alone.
"How about that, we can play defense," Pioneers coach Scott Mankins said. "In the three games coming into this one, we gave up 86, 86, and 80 points.
"Anybody is going to win if we give them that many points. The kids came into this game committed to playing better defense, and for the most part, they did."
James Wood's offensive problems and Millbrook's improved defensive play became evident from the opening whistle. After Colonels guard Nick Foura hit a 3-pointer for the first points of the game, Millbrook responded with a 12-0 run leaving James Wood trailing 12-3 with 2:41 left in the first period.
During that Millbrook run, the Colonels missed nine straight shots, and were 2 of 14 from the field at the end of the first quarter.
The result looked more like a football score, with Millbrook leading 21-7 to begin the second period.
James Wood started the second quarter with a vengeance, hitting its first three shots including a 3-pointer by Michael Carter. That quickly narrowed Millbrook's lead to 21-14 with 6:11 still to play in the first half.
"We had spurts like that all night, but we just couldn't sustain them," Smith said. "After that, we would go ice cold."
Closing fast on the Pioneers' lead, James Wood went scoreless over its next 10 shots. By the time the Colonels were able to score a point of any kind, Millbrook had expanded its lead to 34-14 with 2:45 still to play in the second quarter.
James Wood managed to hit three more field goals before intermission, but the damage was already done and the Pioneers headed into the third quarter leading 44-23.
Millbrook's first-half offense was led by Rze Culbreath, who scored 15 of his game-high 19 points during the first 16 minutes. The Pioneers' big men also made a significant contribution, combining for 22 points in the paint.
"We only took eight 3s tonight," Mankins said. "We were moving the ball around and looking for the open man. We had about 25 assists tonight, and when you're doing that you're going to shoot a lot higher percentage."
Starting center Boomer Kaczmarzewaski was the largest beneficiary of the improved Pioneers passing, scoring 12 points for the night, but reserves Eddie Trexler had seven and Brandon Kibbe scored three.
Despite the big Millbrook lead, James Wood came out for the second half and fought to get back into the game. Carter was the key to the Colonels' resurgence, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the third quarter.
James Wood, which had committed 14 first-half turnovers, managed to reduce that total to just two in the third quarter and narrowed Millbrook's lead to 63-48 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
But with the Colonels at least within striking distance of the Pioneers, James Wood missed its first eight shots from the field and allowed Millbrook to pull back ahead 73-53 with a little over three minutes to play.
"Some of our problem was their defense," Smith said. "I thought Millbrook played a lot quicker than we did in the first half, but most of it was the fact that we just couldn't hit our shots.
"That comeback in the third quarter was just us hitting the shots we'd been taking all night. Then suddenly, they wouldn't go in anymore."
Millbrook's resurgence after losing its first two district game proved that in this year's district race, the difference between victory and defeat will be decided by the narrowest of margins.
"The key to winning the district this year is to survive," Mankins said. "Just about anyone can beat anyone else on a given night. We just need to get our focus back and keep playing team basketball."