Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Defense, Second Quarter Power Surge Propels Putnam Valley

Putnam Valley coach Mike McDonnell keeps specific tabs on every statistical category known to man.

The first-year Putnam Valley coach employs a “defensive points system,” tracking not only the Tigers’ steals but also the number of deflections.

The Tigers disrupted Lakeland’s offense in myriad ways Wednesday night, emerging with a 52-43 victory before an ultra-hostile home crowd in Shrub Oak.

Led by Ryan Basso’s 14 points and four steals (six deflections, as McDonnell was quick to note), the Tigers instigated five turnovers in four minutes during the second quarter.

 The Tigers' panic-provoking pressure was pivotal, limiting Lakeland to a meager three points during that eight-minute stretch.

“Just turning up our defense really gets our offensive tempo flowing,” said Tigers forward Jelani Bell-Isaac, who supplemented his game-high 15 rebounds with 13 points, none bigger than two from a violent and extravagant dunk via Basso's lob.

“We were just trying to get into our zone, get our hands into the passing lanes and create as much disruption and as many deflections as we could. We try to get aggressive. We’re going to take this win and keep it going. We’ve got a big game against Suffern coming up.”

The augmented defensive energy spurred the Tigers’ 16-6 surge, capped off by Zack Nolan’s deep 3-pointer.

 That tidal wave of momentum turned an early seven-point deficit into a 19-16 edge with 5:15 remaining in the second quarter.

“We just wanted to create pressure on their guards, keep them hostile and keep them crazy,” said Ryan Basso, who bagged a corner 3-pointer that pumped the Tigers’ lead to 13 in the fourth quarter.

Basso had previously drained a 3-pointer, countering a long trey from Lakeland’s Ryan Thomas, to swell the spread to 37-29.

“Everybody knows about Ryan Basso as a shooter, but tonight he really showed where his defense is,” said McDonnell, whose team improves to 10-1 while surfacing as favorites to win Class B.

“He really got his hands on a lot of passes tonight. Defense is really a point of emphasis for us. It is something we reward the kids on and we chart it. We’re getting a lift from our bench, with younger kids like sophomore Kevin Gallagher and also seniors like Kevin Fitzsimmons contributing. It’s just a full team effort.”

Lakeland required a full team effort, especially with 6-foot-9 sophomore center Nick Fazio and a pair of forwards mired in foul trouble. Kevin Lynch, a first-year senior, sparked the Hornets with 10 points.

The left-handed Lynch drained a 15-foot jumper that cut Lakeland's deficit to 10 in the fourth quarter. Beyond Basso and Bell-Isaac, Zach Coleman scored 10 points and Zack Nolan added nine.

The Hornets seemed to be closing the gap when Mike Morelli’s 3-pointer pulled Lakeland within nine, 31-22 to start the third.

The Tigers answered. Bell-Isacc sank 1-of-2 free throws and Basso came up with a nifty banker off a jump stop through traffic.

Lakeland’s opportunities were buried under a torrent of turnovers and off-balanced shots in the key. Too many shots at point-blank rolled off the rim or were manipulated, influenced, and altered by Putnam Valley's frontline.

Morelli has been the go-to guy for Lakeland. The guard, who dropped 19 on cross-town rival Walter Panas, has been pivotal this season.

Fazio has the potential to be a lethal double-duty player down the road.

During a game of this magnitude, it was Putnam Valley's experience and ability to transfer defense into offense that played a crucial role.

“We knew what to expect from Lakeland, we know they are big and they can play,” said McDonnell, who was so hyped for this clash he admitted to drinking his “first-ever Red Bull” prior to the 6 p.m. tipoff.

McDonnell continued, “They are going to be really good. Hey, we know there are no easy outs in this league. My brother (Dan McDonnell) is a baseball coach at Louisville and he always tells me, ‘be where your feet are.’ We came in here prepared for Lakeland and Lakeland only.”

Basso prepared for the Hornets' wild home crowd, which serenaded Putnam Valley’s guards with a hailstorm of boos throughout.

“We always know when we step in this gym it’s going to be loud,” said Basso.

 “They’re our rival in every sport. Coach just told us we need to play like ourselves and bring it to them.”