Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wheeler gets defensive against Centennial

It’s no secret that the Wheeler Wildcats can pump in the points on the offensive side of the ball. That’s never been a question for the team from Marietta. With two ACC bound seniors and a host of other Division I prospects waiting in the wings, Wheeler can put points on the board in a hurry.

The question with Wheeler, however, is can the team keep the opposition from doing the same?

The answer was an emphatic yes as Wheeler beat Centennial 76-56 on Saturday night in the Region 6-AAAAA championship game at Alpharetta High School.

Wheeler started the game on a 13-0 run thanks to a trio of three-pointers from Phil Taylor, Joey Jerome and Ari Stewart. From there, Wheeler never let up and locked down on defense from tip to finish.

“That set the momentum of the game, hands down,” Stewart, a Wake Forest signee, said. “When a team goes down 13-0 to start a game, they go into panic mode. Eventually they scored but we played hard, rebounded the ball, played good defense and fought well.”

Defensively, Wheeler set the tone inside the paint and forced Centennial to take perimeter shots and challenged every dribble penetration from the speedy squad from North Fulton. Richard Howell, the strong-bodied post headed to N.C. State, set the tone inside with his physical play.

The big man owned his match-up against junior Kam Belin. Howell scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Howell said Wheeler is coming together at the right time.

“I think we are coming together real well. I think playing together in AAU ball really helped us a lot because we got to know each other really well,” he said. “I think we are finally coming together as a team. We can’t backtrack. There was a lot of adversity but we overcame it. We stepped up to the challenge.”

Wheeler has dealt with some personnel adversity late in the season but head coach Doug Lipscomb said he is happy with the way his team prevailed in the semi-finals and on Saturday night in front of a raucous crowd of 2,700 people.

“We’ve been playing very hard. We’ve been through some adversity. We didn’t play with Karl [Cochran] last night and we’ve been without Tahj [Tate]. We had to step up our game with other people. I’m always happy when we are working our butts off because that’s the main reason why we got here. I’m proud of our kids. Very proud of them,” Lipscomb said.

“We just played a very good team and beat a very good team. I’m please with our kids. I’m pleased but not satisfied as we are going into the tournament. We have a long ways to go but overall I’m happy with the effort that they gave me.”

He has to be happy with the 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists from Phil Taylor. Stewart added 18 points and 10 rebounds, too. Jerome has been outstanding in relief for Tate late in the season. His defense and passing played a huge part in the win and helped contain the speed of Centennial’s backcourt.

Brown did all he could do. He scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the defeat. Despite his effort, Brown just couldn’t do it on his own. Stewart said he was happy with the way his entire team shut down the Centennial attack.

“Defense is something that we’ve been emphasizing all year. If we don’t play defense, we don’t win. When you play against a great player in Lorenzo and his team, it’s going to be tough,” Brown said. “When he gets into the lane, it’s a wrap. He’s going to score. He is going to get his teammates involved. He’s going to get the ball to the open person. We focused on stopping him from getting to the basket.”

Wheeler plays host to Harrison on Saturday in the first round of the state tournament. Centennial will host North Cobb on Saturday.