In a matter of weeks the Sedona Red Rock High School boys basketball team has taken on a new style of play, and the results have come.
At the season’s beginning, the Scorpions [11-5, 1-0 2A Central] were playing at a fast pace and creating offense through volume shooting, especially from three-point range. They committed a number of turnovers as well.
After having won the Joy Christian Winter Start Tournament on Dec. 22, the team carried that momentum into its 49-42 2A Central Section victory over visiting Paradise Honors High School on Jan. 3.
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It continued its fast pace, but instead used it to their advantage and committed to higher-percentage opportunities.
“It was a lot of pressure and I think they were a little scared of us to be honest,” junior forward Winston Cox said. “I think when we started to trap them in the corners they started throwing these long passes and we were getting them really easily.”
Turnovers served as a dual-purpose asset in Red Rock’s Tuesday night success.
They directly fueled its offense while limiting opportunities for the Panthers, who have two six-foot-seven inside threats in senior Salim Bayo and junior Jared Perry, along with complementary outside shooters.
The Scorpions, who as of Jan. 4 rank No. 5 in Division 2A, led 13-5 after the first eight minutes, and nine of those points came from Panther turnovers; they committed eight in that quarter alone.
The second quarter was a mirror image of the first from a turnover perspective, but the offensive well from which Red Rock drew in the first seemed to dry. The teams tied the quarter, 4-4.
“We weren’t moving the ball around that much,” Cox said. “We didn’t try to take it inside as much ... If we would’ve worked the ball more I think we would’ve scored more.”
The Scorpions exhibited more patience in their half-court offense for most of the game, whereas weeks ago a shot would have been put up within ten to fifteen seconds; and there is no shot clock in Arizona high school basketball.
They did, however, have 10 assists on their 16 made field goals.
“We’re trying to be patient, disciplined and stop jacking the ball up,” head coach Kirk Westervelt said. “And it’s hard with young kids like this, cause they see the NBA, they love that three-point stripe and it’s glamorous. The disciplined teams at the end of the year in the state semis are always good and disciplined. They work it inside and then out, but not outside-in, and that’s what we’re trying to change.”
Up 17-9 at halftime, the game was far from decided and the second half would prove to be interesting.
At the outset of the third quarter, Red Rock scored 12 of the first 19 points, with senior forward Dawson Stevenson contributing seven, to open a 29-16 lead.
But the Panther offense did catch a spark. They shot eight for 12 from the field that included two buckets from distance and only five turnovers.
The Scorpions maintained a 33-25 lead with one frame remaining.
“I think we were just getting caught in our trapping and we let people get past us,” junior forward Wyatt Gregson said. “But we just have to be smarter, know where our people are.”
Gregson also noted that fatigue played a small part in the slowing of Red Rock’s up-tempo defense.
In the fourth quarter, Paradise Honors pulled to within three on two occasions, at 37-34 and 40-37, with little less than two minutes left. Bayo scored five and an additional three three-pointers were a thorn in the side of Red Rock, but making four of nine free throw attempts was enough to secure the victory.
“We said if they’re going to beat us it’s going to be from the outside, and they almost did beat us outside,” Westervelt said. “Those are tough shots.”
Normally an issue for the Scorpions, they did not give up a free throw until the fourth quarter, and only five in total.
“We did well cause we defended, and one thing I always tell them is defense travels anywhere,” Westervelt said. “It’s a process. End of year I promise you we will be there somewhere in that state tournament, I don’t know where but we’re going to be a contender.”
Stevenson led all scorers with 15 points while Gregson added 12. Bayo led the Panthers with 11.
Red Rock next plays at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at Chino Valley High School in a nonconference matchup.