by Jaylon Thompson
If there were any questions on how new Sandy Creek head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson would lead the immensely talented boys basketball team, the questions were answered in a resounding way on Friday night.
Sandy Creek outpaced Riverdale, 78-56, and displayed new attitude that reflected a focus on effort and detail. Nickerson directed his players to “defend without fouling” and to play with “pace” throughout the game.
The Patriots responded by pressuring the Raiders at half court and going to 3-2 zone often to create turnovers.
As a result, Sandy Creek was able to jump out to an early lead with junior guard T.J. Bickerstaff getting the crowd hyped with back-to-back dunks. He had 5 points in the first quarter and ignited the Patriots high-powered offense.
Bickerstaff also got involved on the defensive end as he affected a couple early shots with his length and agility. At the end of the first frame, the Patriots held a 14-10 lead.
Things would get better for the Patriots in the second quarter as they went on a quick 7-2 run behind balanced scoring from senior guards Jarred Godfrey and Kameron Miller. Both guards attacked the paint and scored from the foul line.
Sandy Creek closed out the first half leading 38-22 and rode that momentum into halftime.
“We are trying to play with a lot more pace and create more possessions for our team,” Nickerson said.
In the second half, the Patriots continued to add to the lead, but they failed to add to put away Riverdale, who made a run in the third quarter. The Raiders put up 22 points in the third frame behind 8 points junior forward Jaelyn Lay. Lay finished with 12 points and took advantage of some uncharacteristic mistakes from the Patriots. His presence brought Riverdale back into the game and prompted Nickerson to switch out his entire floor lineup at the 3:37 mark of the third.
Nickerson said the change was to get his team to play with more effort and energy.
“We have to keep working to get more effort out of them,” Nickerson said. “It’s little things that they don’t think the normal person sees, but we see it and we care about it (energy).”
After a late timeout, the Patriots got back to moving the ball inside to their interior players. They focused more on senior forward Xavier Brewer to score and draw attention away from the perimeter.
Brewer responded with 6 points to extend the second-half lead. He finished the game with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds. He also contributed 3 assists, a steal, and block.
“Xavier is our best communicator on defense and sees a lot of things off the ball,” Nickerson said. “He is rarely out of position and is an anchor defensively. For us to be successful, he has to be able to show up every night on that end of the floor.”
As the final seconds ticked away, Sandy Creek wrapped up their fifth victory of the season. The win was snapshot of how they want to play with balanced scoring. Six players scored in double figures as the team shot 52 percent from the field.
Miller led the way with 13 points and Bickerstaff added 14 points. While there were mistakes, the Patriots showed that they could be a force within the Region 5 Class AAAA standings.
Sandy Creek moved to 6-1 on the season with an 89-55 win over North Clayton on Saturday.
Lady Patriots coach Janie Hodges sees the potential of her young team every time they hit the hardwood. She knows that with youth comes inexperience and that is something she must work through to get everyone on the same page. On Friday, the team took a step towards that goal with a 52-21 win over the Riverdale Raiders.
The Patriots looked more fluid as they thwarted the Raiders on both sides of the ball. Sophomore forward Daija Powell led the way with 22 points, and freshman guard Jania Hodges chipped with 9 points.
“We limited turnovers, played cohesively, and it showed in the score,” Janie Hodges said. “I was proud of the effort they gave as we really have been trying to bond this week in practice. To see it show out in the game, I am excited for that.”
The Patriots showed their aggression early as they went on a 13-0 run in the first quarter. Jania Hodges got it going early with five points in the first frame, including a 3-pointer from the perimeter.
Powell established her presence inside and started to find a rhythm towards the close of the quarter. She continued her dominance with impressive footwork and a slick midrange turnaround jump shot. One highlight play was a smooth layup over a Raider defender midway through the second quarter. Powell took the contact and scored to extend the double-digit lead.
Coach Hodges was happy to see her be successful on the interior. She hopes for a similar output as the season unfolds.
“Daija is a special player and she played big for us last year,” said Hodges. “She is going to have to play bigger this year for us to be successful. To see her show up and shine tonight, I hope she continues to bring it for the rest of the season.”
The win gave the Patriots their third win of the season. It was a good display of their defense effort and energy. There is belief that the outburst will be a sign of things to come.
“I think we are a good defensive team when we communicate,” Janie Hodges said. “We had lapses on the defensive end when we stop doing that, but I think defensively we are going to be a tough team to beat.”
The Lady Patriots were back in action on Saturday, falling to North Clayton 43-33 in a close contest.