Falcons show off the strides taken on the defensive end in rout of Page County

Luke Estep Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s boys basketball team didn’t shoot particularly well during Wednesday’s 68-41 non-district win over visiting Page County, but what the Falcons lacked in offensive efficiency they made up for in defense and rebounding.

Central, using a 1-2-2 full-court zone press and half-court man defense for most of the night, forced the Panthers into 23 turnovers and dominated on the glass, ending the night with a 45-30 advantage in total rebounds in what was the Falcons’ fourth straight win of the season and their second victory over Page County in the last week.

“The defense was great,” said Falcons senior Luke Estep, who finished with a double-double in the win. “I thought our press was working tonight. We were forcing a lot of turnovers, forcing a lot of bad passes, which was allowing us to get in transition and then get easy buckets.”

Central’s (4-1) blowout victory over the Panthers (1-2) on Wednesday was a far cry from the competitive contest the two played in Shenandoah last Friday night, when the Falcons needed two overtimes to eke out a 92-88 win.

Estep and Falcons junior point guard Jared Patton both said playing on their home court aided Central’s effort on Wednesday – the Falcons never trailed, led 31-17 at halftime and by as many as 33 points in the fourth quarter – but head coach Jeff Whittle said the performance highlighted the strides Central has taken on defense over the last week.

Jared Patton Rich Cooley/Daily

“At their place I thought we were on-ball, falling for fakes, leaving our feet, just some ill-advised, poor decisions on defense, poor footwork,” said Whittle, who added that the Falcons have worked on closing out on opposing shooters and their defense on and off the ball. “Tonight I thought we did a great job, whether it was in our press or just our half-court defense.”

In a testament to Central’s defensive prowess against the Panthers, the Falcons limited senior guard Nathan Myers, whom Whittle considers one of the “key” pieces to Page County’s offense, to just two shot attempts and zero points.

Page County as a team shot only 34.9 percent (15-of-43) from the floor and though the Falcons didn’t fare much better – Central shot 38.1 percent (24-of-63) and struggled at times to finish around the rim – they scored half of their points in the paint, controlled the lane on both sides of the court and swiped 13 steals among their 23 forced turnovers.

“I feel like when we get some steals the crowd gets into it, it gets us going (and we) get out in transition, get some easy buckets,” said Patton, who had 16 points and was 3-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc. “Steals and rebounds, getting out and going, gets us in rhythm, gets us going.”

Estep’s individual performance epitomized Central’s success on Wednesday night. He dominated the paint to the tune of 17 points and 15 rebounds and added six steals, three in each half.

“He played really well,” Patton said of the 6-foot-3 senior. “With the steals he had and getting out, even him running point and relieving me of some pressure was helping a lot. And him knocking down shots was getting us going. Him just grabbing rebounds in general was helping us.”

Estep scored 11 points in the second half as the Falcons steadily built a 14-point halftime lead into a 66-33 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.

“When you get in the flow of the game stuff just sort of happens, and stuff was falling in the right place,” Estep said. “I was in the right place at the right time, teammates were passing me the ball, it was great.”

With Wednesday’s win Central is off to a 4-1 start one year after beginning last season 0-5. The 2016-17 Falcons returned just two starters under a first-year head coach in Whittle, while this season’s edition boasts an experienced core led by Estep, Patton, junior Sam Shifflett and senior forward Bryan Davis – who missed the first half of last season – and the return of senior guard Varsey Bright, who did not attend Central last year but shined for the Falcons as a sophomore two years ago.

“Last year was kind of like a building year and then this year it’s like we all came together, we all know everyone’s roles and we’re just playing as a team now,” Patton said. “Everything’s working out.”