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Jan. 8, 2010

Knights conquer Blazers 52-48

by Gardi Royce, Page Editor
Senior co-captain Cameron Reed attempts a shot despite strong Wheaton defense. Wylie Conlon
Senior co-captain Cameron Reed attempts a shot despite strong Wheaton defense.
After a tough holiday tournament in which they lost two games by an average of 17 points, the Blazers (1-7) looked to bounce back at home against a formidable 3-3 Wheaton team. Crucial defensive breakdowns and missed free throws affected Blair performance, as the team fell 52-48 in a highly contested game.

Although the Blazers came out strong in the second half, poor execution and sloppy play prevented them from taking the lead. Although they trailed by only eight points and kept Wheaton within striking range, the Blazers experienced a defensive collapse that allowed the Knights to maintain their lead until the end.
Senior co-captain Denis Mesidor takes a free throw. Wylie Conlon
Senior co-captain Denis Mesidor takes a free throw.

With two minutes and 30 seconds left in the game, Blair had gained momentum and was only three points behind. To close the deficit, the Blazers aimed to rush down the court and create a shot. Instead, they rushed their pass and turned the ball over in a sloppy effort. Frustrated by their mistakes, the team tried to make up for lost opportunities with increased hustle.

The Blazers missed six free throws in a game that was decided by four points at the end. Head coach Mark DeStefano admitted that this problem was not just the result of fatigue or poor play. "These athletes are the engine of the team. I'm just on the sidelines guiding them, but in the end they have to decide which way the team goes from now on. We have been in positions to win and when faced with adversity, we must rise up and conquer it," he said.

Closely defended by a Wheaton player, senior Ben Hukill sprints up the court. Wylie Conlon
Closely defended by a Wheaton player, senior Ben Hukill sprints up the court.
Senior co-captain Cameron Reed made a step in that direction. After struggling to score during the last couple games, Reed put in 15 points against Wheaton under heavy defense. Reed didn't shy away from contact, sacrificing his body for the team and playing with every ounce of energy he had. When a larger Wheaton player streaked down the court, Reed held his ground and took a crushing blow that drew a charge foul.

While Reed stood out, the Blair team as a whole experienced several difficulties against Wheaton. Their inability to make free throws, handle the ball cleanly and execute on defense made them unable to make a strong comeback against the Knights. A defensive-minded team, the Blazers had trouble stopping Wheaton's powerful offense once it caught fire in the second half.

The Blazers have struggled with second-half comebacks throughout the season. So far, Blair has been outscored 213-155 by their opponents in the second half.

Junior Charles Ruffin takes advantage of a temporary opening in the Wheaton defense to bring the ball to the hoop. Wylie Conlon
Junior Charles Ruffin takes advantage of a temporary opening in the Wheaton defense to bring the ball to the hoop.
A general lack of physical and mental toughness has also been a problem for the Blazers. They don't always have the mental endurance to hold onto the ball and prevent turnovers against other teams. Although Blair has improved since the beginning of the season, assistant coach Cedric Boatman still believes the team isn't as competitive and has to work harder to win. "We are a decent team with decent, average players. We simply cannot play at an average level to win. We have to play at a much higher level if we want to be competitive," he said.

In their first game of the season, Blair held Clarksburg to an impressive 45 points. But since then, the Blazers have allowed their opponents to average 56 points per game, while Blair has averaged only 42 points. Although this is largely due to the Blazers' inability to box out and secure rebounds, the problem also lies deeper. DeStefano believes there should be a change in mindset. "It needs to be important to do things the right way. The players have to feel it's important to dive on the ground and hustle all game.
Junior Anthony Curcio-Rudy throws the ball in from the sidelines. Wylie Conlon
Junior Anthony Curcio-Rudy throws the ball in from the sidelines.
There's a value shift that has to happen if we want to eventually get better and compete," he said.

This season, the Blazers' ability to come together as a team and play error-free basketball will be key, as they attempt to generate points and turnovers. With Springbrook, Sherwood and Magruder on the horizon, the Blazers will need to shape up quickly in order to compete. DeStefano believes the Blazers will be able to play with these teams if they maintain the necessary conviction. "We have nothing to lose. We can't be timid. We can't be soft. We can't go in there to lose. We need to have complete confidence in ourselves and then we can compete and win our games," he said.

Blair's next home game is against Sherwood High School on Monday, Jan. 11 at 7:00 p.m.

Editor's Note: Mark DeStefano is the adviser for Silver Chips Online.



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