Team effort keeps Bulldogs perfect in SED

Published 11:34 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Things didn’t always go right for the King’s Fork High boys basketball team Tuesday during its 77-64 defeat of visiting Indian River. But what encouraged both the Bulldogs’ coach and their followers was that when one player faltered, another stepped up.

Jamar Wertz poured in 19 points in the first half and fell off to eight in the second, but backcourt mate Jaquon Parker scored 10 points on either side of halftime. Center Davante Gardner had what coach Joshua Worrell called “his worst game of the season”, but his partner in the paint, Jay Copeland, held the defensive fort and his temper.

In a similar vein, the sloppy ball handling that caused King’s Fork to commit 20 turnovers was quashed when it mattered most. Down the stretch, the Bulldogs (16-1, 13-0) didn’t allow the Braves to cut a five-point deficit to a smaller margin. The hosts scored the game’s final eight points.

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“We can adapt and it’s a good thing we can, because that means that other parts of our puzzle fall into place,” said Worrell, whose team hosts Hickory on Thursday and visits Nansemond River the following night. “I don’t think we have to have one player get hot if we can play well as a team and get defensive stops when we have to.”

Wertz was the go-to guy in the first half, hitting on 6 of 9 field goal attempts, all from behind the arc. He had 18 points after 11 minutes, by which time King’s Fork was up 35-24. The Bulldogs had a chance to put the game away before halftime when they led 46-30 with 1:29 to play. But turnovers led to four quick points for the Braves (14-3, 10-3), who headed into the locker room down by 12.

In recent weeks, Worrell has used the monstrous front line of Gardner and Copeland for roughly 12 minutes per half. That wasn’t going to happen Tuesday because Gardner struggled defensively and never looked comfortable on the attack. It was left to Copeland to provide an inside presence against a quick foe that likes to drive the lane, and he did so despite taking a beating under the basket.

“Jay was the player of the game in my opinion,” Worrell said. “He could have gotten in a fist fight the way those guys were hitting him, but he’s matured and even though he was frustrated, he held back.”

Copeland’s reserve let his team focus on second-half defense, for Wertz had cooled off and Parker made 2 of 9 field goals in the third quarter. Dravon Poitillo, who had 10 points for Indian River in the first half, managed two in the third quarter and although he had six in the final stanza, his team began it down by 14 points.

Worrell has said for nearly a year that his team’s run to the state playoffs last season would bring increased attention, pressure and distractions. The coach has dealt with those factors in different ways, and said sidelined point guard Rar-kesh Harris provided some motivation before Tuesday’s contest.

Harris, who was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament in the first game, asked his teammates to renew their energy and focus.

“Rar-kesh said he didn’t want to see guys joking around, because his season ended after one game and he never even got to play on his home floor as a senior,” Worrell said. “He talked about how he puts on a happy face every day but that it kills him inside and that he needs this team to go as far as it can. We had guys almost in tears when he was done.”

In the end, it was the Braves who were sent home sniveling. The Bulldogs’ puzzle is coming together just fine.