When compiling a list of desirable traits for an optimum defense, East coach Joe Jackson considers great on-ball defenders, overall quickness, length, and a shot-blocker as musts.
It just so happens the Blue Aces possess all of those qualities, and they were on full display in their 75-47 dismantling of Leavenworth, a ranked Class 5A opponent, in Thursday’s first round of the Tournament of Champions in Dodge City.
East suffocated Leavenworth so effectively and efficiently, the game was essentially over when it took a 21-3 lead six minutes into the game.
“When we are defending at our highest potential, we could be a really dynamic defensive team,” Jackson said. “We can cause a lot of issues and a lot of problems.”
East 6-foot-3 junior Zach Jackson has arms like branches and he uses them to harass the opponent’s best player, in this case Leavenworth’s Cameron Wiggins, into poor shooting nights. Wiggins, an all-Sunflower League player, missed 14 of his 15 shots and committed three turnovers.
Tyas Martin, also 6-3, is also an excellent defender. Another reason why East has transformed from a mediocre defensive team into a great one is the commitment of Samajae Jones, unquestionably the Blue Aces’ most talented offensive player.
But Jones no longer seeks 20-point outbursts like he once did. He’s more than fine with performances like Thursday, when he was fifth on the team in scoring with five points, because he was more than a nuisance on defense.
“I wanted to show that I can play defense, too,” Jones said. “I wanted to show I can rebound, and I can guard the best player if I have to.”
Even with an off-night of shooting by Leavenworth factored in, East’s defensive performance was nothing short of excellence.
After three quarters, Leavenworth, a team that averages better than 63 points, was held to 25 on paltry 13.2 percent shooting (5 of 38).
“Last year we were horrible defensively,” Zach Jackson said. “Coach has put a real emphasis on it and we’ve improved a lot. We work a lot on defense in practice.”
East’s lead rarely dipped below 20 after taking a 27-7 lead in the first quarter. Kelly led East with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Zach Jackson (11 points), Isaac Fralin (8 points, 11 rebounds), and Martin (9 points) performed well in the rout.
East, which improved to 10-0, will play Maize in Friday’s 8:30 p.m. semifinal.
“This is the best team I’ve ever played on,” Jones said. “I feel like we could definitely do something special.”
Maize 40, Dodge City 38 — A season ago, Maize may have folded when it shot 31 percent through three quarters and trailed a formidable team like Dodge City by five.
But now, with six seniors, Maize knows how to win.
Aaron Shaw, one of those six seniors, scored eight straight points and nine of his team-high 11 in the fourth quarter to spur the Eagles to victory.
“I knew when we got it tied that, somehow, we would find a way to gut it out,” Maize coach Chris Davis said. “That’s what seniors do for you.”
There is a reason why Dodge City had won its first-round game in 11 straight seasons before Maize snapped the streak — coach Dennis Hamilton’s vaunted 2-3 zone.
“We prepared all week for it, but they’re so wide with it,” Shaw said. “Everything is tough to do against that zone.”
It sent Maize through an adventure in besting it, which it finally conquered in the fourth quarter when Shaw found the opening in the middle and aggressively attacked.
Trailing 36-30 with five minutes left, Shaw scored eight straight points to tie the score at 38 with 2:12 remaining.
Maize produced two consecutive stops and split free throws twice to take a 40-38, then held on when an open Julian Sands three-pointer bounced high off the back of the rim and a Dodge City put-back bounced awry.
After a slow start to last season, Maize (9-1) has now won 14 of its last 15 regular-season games.
“It’s starting to all come together for us,” Shaw said.
Manhattan 55, Heights 46 — Heights has proved its one of the best teams in the state in the open court, where its speed, quickness, and length can be leveraged best.
But Manhattan reminded the second-place team in the City League that, to be great, it must master all types of games — half-court included. Manhattan beat Heights 55-46 in overtime Thursday in the first round of the Dodge City Tournament of Champions.
“It’s very disappointing, but it will be a good lesson,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “I promise you we will be a much better club going forward as a result of this loss. You need to through this a little before you get to the post-season.”
Manhattan, which will face Hays in the semifinals, kept Heights on a leash with its flat 3-2 zone defense and its tendency for patient play on offense. The Falcons failed to cope under the circumstances, and became resigned to playing Manhattan’s game.
Outside of a 4-0 burst off two steals in the last minute of regulation to force overtime, Heights was stagnant on offense and finished shooting 34.6 percent from the floor.
The Falcons, who were led by Semaj Hervey’s 14 points, were out-scored 11-2 in overtime and will play Hutchinson 2 p.m. on Friday.
Hays 62, Hutchinson 41 — The Salthawks trimmed the deficit to 45-39 early in the fourth quarter, but wilted away as Hays ended the game on a 17-2 run. Kalen Hilst came off the bench to score 15 points, while Braydon Wells added eight points, six rebounds, and eight assists.
Hays 62, Hutchinson 41
HUTCHINSON: Wells 8, Arnold 2, Webster 5, Stoecklien 4, Parra 5, Hilst 15, Tolbert 1, Norman 1, Howard 0, Fee 0, McQueen 0, Faucett 0.
HAYS: Niernberger 6, Clark 14, Windholz 6, Parker 5, Werth 26, Nunnery 3, Riedel 2, Rounkles 0, Berens 0.
Manhattan 55, Heights 46
MANHATTAN: Stitt 5 0-0 12, Awbrey 1 5-9 7, Taylor 0 2-5 2, McAtee 0 0-0 0, Stephens 11 3-6 25, Francis 6, Martin 3, Feher 0.
HEIGHTS: Hervey 6 0-0 14, Johnson 2 1-2 6, Bell 1 1-2 3, Gill 3 0-0 6, Ellis 0, King 9, Lowe 5, Wilbeck 3, Johnson 0, Taylor 0.
East 75, Leavenworth 47
LEAVENWORTH: Randall 0 0-0 0, Wiggins 1 13-14 15, Anderson 0 3-6 3, Boyce 0 0-0 0, Simmons 0 0-0 0, Lang 7 6-8 20, Ellis 1 0-0 2, Bartlett 0, Ford 0 0-0 0.
EAST: Jones 2 0-0 5, Martin 3 3-5 9, Jackson 5 1-1 11, McGairty 2 0-0 4, Kelly 8 1-3 17, Fralin 3 2-5 8, Dixon 2 1-2 5, Eckels 2 0-0 4, O’Day 1 0-0 3, Mutazammil 1 0-0 2, Caw 0 0-0 0.
Maize 40, Dodge City 38
MAIZE: Horsch 4, Wilcox 3, Jobe 0, Shaw 11, Lungwitz 8, Johnson 9, Eleeson 5, Engler 0.
DODGE CITY: Weiser 12, Oldham 3, Walters 0, Larson 10, Sands 3, Unruh 4, Williams 3, Reid 0.