It all starts on defense and Montgomery Academy had the defensive strategy to hold the St. James offense in check.
“We’ve been talking a lot defensively about just getting back to our basics and the things that have made our program successful over the last several years,” Montgomery Academy coach Jeremy Arant said. “We’re playing a lot better defense than we were at the beginning of the year and that shows in our scores and it’s allowing us to play more transition offense, which is big for us.”
The Eagles’ top three scorers saved their best for last, combining for 14 points in the final period to hold off the Trojans and come out on top 49-34 in the first area game for both teams at Joe Mooty Court on Friday night.
“That was huge,” Arant said. “The last couple of years, we kind of got behind the eight-ball in terms of area play. We talked a lot with our guys today about how this was important because it’s really hard to play catchup in the area.”
MA (7-9) won its fourth consecutive game with good defense in the first three quarters, concentrating on holding the Trojans’ leading scorer, Tyler Pines, without a basket.
“Tyler is a dynamic player,” Arant said. “He does a great job of controlling the tempo in the game. We wanted to try to get it up-tempo a little bit but he does a great job of pacing the game for them. He’s really hard to keep out of the lane. We ran two guys at him most of the night to try and do that.
“Then, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, he scored three or four baskets in a row and cut the lead to three points. He’s just hard to deal with.”
Pines had six straight points to trim the MA lead to 35-32 with 6:41 remaining, but his next attempt, a 3-pointer, was off the mark and a turnover on the Trojans’ next possession cooled off the rally. Four minutes later, with the Eagles still clinging to a three-point lead, Oliver Bear hit a 3-pointer on an in-bounds pass and William Norrell hit a layup on the next possession to put the game out of reach as MA scored the last 12 points of the game.
“We’ve been in (almost) every game … but we just don’t have that little bit of something to get over the hump,” St. James coach Nigel Card said. “But we played hard. They’re doing the best they can right now. We just have to keep working to get better.”
Bear had 13 points (and five rebounds) to lead Montgomery Academy, including five in the fourth quarter. Norrell had 11 points, including four in the fourth quarter, along with five assists and seven rebounds. Trey Lindsey had just eight points, but five were in the fourth quarter, to go along with seven assists and eight rebounds.
Andrew Sadie led St. James (4-11) with 15 points, followed by Alex Rountree with nine and Pines with seven, going more than 24 minutes without a basket before hitting three early in the fourth quarter.
“That was problematic, for sure,” Card said. “It takes us out of anything we want to do because our secondary ball handler hasn’t been identified, somebody stepping up, getting the basketball and making a basketball play. Any time you’ve got two guys on one, that means somebody is open but you’ve got to have somebody who’s capable of taking the ball and making the defense hurt.”
Both teams are on the road for area games on Tuesday, with MA playing at Bullock County on Tuesday and St. James traveling to Pike Road.
“You don’t want to lose any of them, but the area games are about positioning and trying to get yourself in the best position to host,” Card said. “But we’re a long way from that. We’re just focusing on trying to play well right now.”