By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline certainly played with intensity on Tuesday night in its Northwestern District boys basketball contest with visiting Handley.
But as the Hawks found out in their 71-44 loss to the Judges, there is a big difference between simply playing with intensity and playing with controlled intensity.
"The intensity that we came to play with tonight is what's necessary to beat a good team like Handley," Hawks coach Jacob Bates said. "We just didn't execute with that intensity in the second half. That's what the difference was. That's what's difficult to do against good teams -- put it together for four quarters."
Skyline (12-6, 1-4 Northwestern) had difficulty handling the basketball against an energetic Handley defense that continuously forced the Hawks to speed up their game by using full-court man-to-man pressure.
The Hawks turned the ball over 26 times on Tuesday, and at times seemed to rush passes and take ill-advised shots in transition as they tried to attack the Judges pressure. Skyline also managed a meager 21.3 percent (10 for 47) shooting from the floor.
Bates said Skyline's struggle against Handley's press was uncharacteristic of the Hawks' play this season.
"We rushed some things, there's no doubt. I think it's a mixture of things," Bates said. "Sometimes we had guys that are trying to feed teammates that they know are there or they think they should be somewhere else, and sometimes we think the trap's coming and it's not there. That's the pace Handley gets you to play at."
The game was sloppy early as both teams had a hard time cashing in on offensive possessions. Hawks junior Casey Stewart -- who led the Hawks with 13 points -- opened the scoring with a pair of buckets to give Skyline a 4-0 lead just over two minutes into the game before Handley (14-4, 4-2) rallied back.
The Judges used a 12-2 run over the final five minutes of the first quarter to take a 12-6 lead after one period of play.
Handley built the lead to 17-9 early in the second period after a 3-pointer by junior Tre Brown and a bucket in the paint by 6-foot-7 junior Cameron Jackson in the quarter's first minute.
Skyline later cut the lead to four points on a free throw by senior Aaron Jeremiah with 4:31 to play in the half before the Judges once again stretched the lead to seven points. The Hawks were able to cut the lead to 26-22 at halftime after senior Kylmen Breeden (12 points) knocked down a jumper with six seconds left in the second period.
Despite the inconsistent play by Handley's offense in the first half, Judges coach Tommy Dixon was happy with the energy level that his team played with, something that has been lacking for Handley over the last several games.
"We brought a different level of intensity tonight and that was good to see," Dixon said. "Our job is to get up and down the floor and we haven't been doing that. Tonight, for some unknown reason -- maybe these guys have taken to the fact that we can do this -- the intensity was there, the focus was there and we did a lot of things right."
Handley showed much better consistency on offense in the second half, opening the third quarter with a 14-3 run to stretch its lead to 40-25 with four minutes remaining in the frame. Junior Solomon Finley provided seven points during the stretch, and ended the game with 12 points coming off the bench for the Judges.
Senior Darion Robinson led Handley with 16 points, and Jackson tallied 13 to give the Judges three players in double figures.
Dixon said rebounding was key to Handley's second-half surge.
"We started rebounding the ball. We were down seven rebounds at halftime and our guys kind of took it to themselves and said 'OK, we've got to do a better job on the boards.' I think we controlled the boards and really got out and ran in the second half."
Handley knocked down 26 of 52 (50 percent) shots from the floor in the game, including a 15-for-25 (60 percent) mark in the second half.
Skyline trailed 46-31 entering the final period and Handley methodically pulled further away over the final eight minutes of the contest. The Judges pushed the lead to 20 points on a pair of free throws by Finley with 3:58 left to play.
Finley put an exclamation point on the victory when he blocked a shot attempt by Skyline's Dorrion Smith before taking the ball the length of the court and throwing down a two-handed dunk while drawing a foul. His free throw gave Handley a 65-39 lead with two minutes to play.
"We've got to score the basketball better, that's what it comes down to," Bates said. "Handley's scoring the basketball -- good teams are going to score the basketball in spurts and you've got to be able to throw a punch back."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org