QUICKSBURG — At some point during the 2018-19 season, Strasburg’s boys basketball team may very well look back at Friday night’s game against Stonewall Jackson and draw upon the lessons learned in its 54-43 win.
The Rams weren’t particularly sharp in the non-district affair and were sucked into an offensive lull against Stonewall’s 2-1-2 zone, which effectively slowed a Strasburg offense that had erupted for 85 points against Page County three days prior. Strasburg’s solution was a full-court zone press that spurred what would be a decisive run midway through the third period.
Strasburg (2-0) also found itself in a close game late for the second straight time to open the season, and found a way once again to close out a win by hitting free throws down the stretch.
“Every game’s different, has its own story,” Rams second-year head coach Larry Fox said after the win. “One night you might have to play kind of the way Page forced us — play fast — and the next night you might just have to play half-court and, as they say, grind it out. And I think that’s we did tonight, just had to grind it out.
“Several of the kids were actually saying this (after the win) — this game is gonna make us better, we’re gonna learn from it and somewhere down the line we’ll say ‘remember that second game of the year against Stonewall where we had to pick up and press them and press the issue a little bit.’ It’s definitely gonna help us down the line.”
In desperate need of a spark after Tucker Dorman’s half-court heave connected at the end of the first half and Calvin Smith’s trey to open the third quarter rallied Stonewall (0-1) into a 19-all tie, Strasburg shifted gears to a 2-2-1 full-court zone to speed up the tempo. The move worked wonders.
Strasburg junior guard Craig Pangle broke a 20-20 tie when he knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner off Derek Fox’s skip pass, and three straight steals at half-court out of their press set the Rams up with a trio of quick buckets in transition. Pangle, who scored 10 points during the spurt, capped the 12-0 run with a traditional 3-point play after hitting a fastbreak layup through contact off a long pass from his twin brother, Kamryn.
The surge, which took place in a span of 1:12, turned a tie game into a 32-20 Strasburg lead with 4:01 left in the third period.
“When we pressed them, I felt like they got kind of nervous,” Craig Pangle said. “When we pressed them, it just gave us a lot of energy. We were just really hype and we were just aggressive every time they got the ball.”
Pangle, a Sherando transfer who scored 20 points in his Strasburg debut last Tuesday, led the Rams with 18 points against Stonewall, 17 of which came in the second half. He added six rebounds and made a spectacular hustle play late in the fourth quarter, blocking a shot from behind after teammate Da’Neil Holliday gambled on a steal attempt at midcourt and making a lunging save on the rebound. The sequence led to Holliday’s fastbreak layup on the other end that extended Strasburg’s lead to 43-38 with three minutes to play.
“He brings tons of energy to the game every single night,” Fox said of Pangle. “You kind of look up and the next thing you know he’s got 18, 20 points.”
The Rams, who had hit 11 3-pointers against Page while shooting over 60 percent from deep, found little success on Friday against what Fox described as an “awkward” 2-1-2 zone that Stonewall often extended well beyond the 3-point arc. Strasburg shot only 29.6 percent (16 of 54) against the Generals and made only 4 of 23 3-pointers.
Pangle said it was the first time Strasburg has played against a zone this season, and the Rams — who committed 16 turnovers — struggled to get into a rhythm.
“I think if we knock down a couple of those shots it may force them out of that zone,” Fox said. “Like I told those guys in there, basketball’s a humbling sport. One night you can shoot the ball lights out and the next night you’re not making anything. That’s just the way it goes.”
Stonewall, led by a pair of 10-point scorers in Dorman and Smith, managed to hang around despite Strasburg’s third-quarter outburst and countered with a 9-0 run late in the period to pull back within 32-29.
The Rams saw their lead trimmed to 3 again in the fourth period after Stonewall’s Griffin Proctor nailed a wide-open midrange jumper with 3:35 left, but four Strasburg players — Trevor Sager (10 points), Craig Pangle, Derek Fox (9 points, eight rebounds) and Holliday — combined to hit 9 of 10 free throws over the final 2:24 of the game to secure the win.
“Getting confidence is always gonna be key for us,” Larry Fox said. “The past few years we’ve kind of struggled in that situation. And really, the big thing too is how often were we in those situations the last two years, where you’re in close games? It’s a learning curve there as well where we’re trying got learn how to win those close games. I think we’re starting to come together.”