As student-athletes across New Hanover County continue exam week through Thursday, the four varsity boys’ basketball coaches from Wilmington schools joined Joe Catenacci on the latest edition of Sports Round Table.
The New Hanover County Schools TV-produced show airs at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays on Time Warner Cable Channel 5. Each telecast features game highlights, analysis and previews the week ahead in high school hoops.
Coming off a 63-58 setback to South Central High School in a non-conference matchup during the Martin Luther King Junior holiday, the New Hanover Wildcats look to re-energize themselves heading into the weekend atop the conference at 6-0 in league play.
The few days off could not come at a better time for the Wildcats, who stand at 14-4 overall. Sophomore Ramello Williams has been hampered by an ankle injury since the Christmas break and saw limited action earlier this week. Classmate Wiz Vaughn was also on a football recruiting trip to Old Dominion as the sophomore attended junior day at the Norfolk, Virginia university on Monday.
New Hanover dominated the first half of their league schedule against a competitive slate among non-conference members that should serve them well heading into tournament time in a few weeks.
“We’ve seen every team once in our league now,” said New Hanover Coach Kirk Angel. “We know how teams want to play us. My message to them after the game on Monday was that we have a much-needed break for some rest, but we still have to work really hard at practice, sharpen some things and get refocused for the second half.”
The Wildcats return to the floor at home against West Brunswick on Monday, Jan. 25. Quality possessions and knocking down free throws are also two keys to the game Angel plans to stress to his team moving into next week.
“West Brunswick is one of the hardest playing teams we see twice a year,” Angel added. “They’re going to play 32 minutes of basketball and have a couple guys back from future. We’ve got to be ready and hold home court.”
With the Trojans in second place at 3-1 in conference, West Brunswick looks to get back in the column tonight against South Brunswick.
A pair of 3-2 division rivals are set to square off on Friday as Hoggard travels to Laney. The Vikings have played in eight games decided in the final few minutes this year. The latest coming in an 83-80 triple overtime setback against Cape Fear Christian.
Coach Brett Queen emphasized the importance of every possession throughout the course of a game, while looking to improve on the defensive end of the floor.
“We talked to our guys at the beginning of the year about playing in close games and that the result may not always come out favorable to you,” Queen said. “The last five times we’ve had a game come down to the last possession we’ve come out on the short end. If we can clean up some things early on, we wouldn’t be in that position.”
Xavier Johnson and A.J. Frye are averaging more than 10 points per game for Hoggard, while Jack Bagley has sank 37 shots from behind the arc to pace the scoring column. While the Vikings have shot a high percentage from the field for a majority of the season, consistency on defense is key to Hoggard’s success.
“We’ve done a good job in certain areas defensively, but have to be able to defend the opponents entire team,” Queen added. “We’re going to be spending the next few days on sharpening things up defensively leading up to Friday night.”
Laney is 3-2 in league play, having won back-to-back road games in conference last week. The Bucs fell 77-60 to Triton on Monday.
Chris Bennett has been a big part of Laney’s success this season, averaging 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The junior’s intensity on both ends of the floor is something that has impressed Coach Nathan Faulk, while Marquan Miller looks to regain his form since coming back from injury during the holiday break.
Freshman Sherod Sidbury has also had a breakout season for the Bucs, but Laney is shooting just 31 percent from the field as a team, a statistic that will need to change if the Bucs look to stay in the mix.
“There’s no secret to the fact that we’ve been struggling to shoot the ball,” said Faulk. “That’s something we’ll continue to work one, but happy with the way we bounced back last week after losses to West Brunswick and New Hanover. Down the stretch if we’re going to make a run we’re going to need Marquan Miller. We’ll have a conversation this week about getting the confidence to make some shots and I believe we have the guys capable of doing that.”
Laney and Hoggard tip off inside Michael Jordan Gymnasium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Rounding out the guest list from this week’s show was Ashley Coach Web Guthrie. The Screaming Eagles are 8-8 overall and 2-3 in conference.
Ashley trailed by as many as 21 against New Hanover last Friday, but closed the deficit to a basket following a 26-7 run before the Wildcats made a late push to secure the result.
“We’re proud of the way our guys fought last week,” said Guthrie. “A lot of teams would have folded going down 20. In tough critical moments of the game we’ve got to have a box out here or there. We’ll look to learn from these experiences, which will hopefully help us through the second half of conference.”
Seniors Qadhafi Turner and Ryan Keller have been two staples on the floor for the Screaming Eagles this season, averaging nine and 12.7 points per game, respectively. Bryston Davis has also served as key contributor along with senior Josh Smiley.
Ashley heads to Shallotte on Friday for a date with West Brunswick.
“We want to be better and I think our group has that potential,” Guthrie said. “West is a very tough, well-coached team so we will need to show up, execute and play at a high level.”
Junior point guard Daitreon Daye has also emerged as a threat for the Screaming Eagles and will be a big component for Ashley if they hope to make a move through the last few weeks of the regular season.