by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Eagles Boys Basketball team used timely shooting and tight second half defense to pull away from the visiting Winnetonka Griffins for a 61-43 win on Tuesday, February 11th.
The first quarter witnessed the Eagles jump out to an early 5-0 lead prior to the Griffins clawing their way back into the game. Guards Jason Essex and Julian Rodgers provided the offensive spark for Winnetonka during much of the game. Grain Valley alternated between full court press and man defenses to contain the duo.
Grain Valley’s offense was fueled by Seniors Caden Matlon and Josh Kilpatrick, who scored 22 and 19 points respectively. Matlon was disciplined in his shot selection as his shooting touch continues to return. Kilpatrick did the bulk of his damage scoring under the basket with contested shots.
Matlon was happy with the outcome of the game and his efforts.
“We’ve been working a lot in practice and Coach Herbert has been helping us with what type of three point shot selection works best for us. Working on getting better three point looks by moving the ball inside out has been key. That started recently against Smithville and has continued for us. We are finally starting to play well together again as a team after going through a rough patch,” Matlon said.
Earning more playing time recently for the Eagles has been Junior Jaden Yung. He has survived his early initiation into varsity basketball. Yung was a solid supporting cast member in the Eagle’s win with 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block.
The points scored by Yung proved timely in Grain Valley’s win. A three pointer by Yung from the wing near the baseline with :36 left in the first half pushed his team’s lead to four points. The Eagles went into halftime ahead 27-23.
Yung also stretched the Eagles lead to ten points in the third quarter after two made free throws from the charity stripe with 3:16 left. Both scoring instances by Yung demonstrated poise in pressure situations.
Yung shared his thoughts on his team’s victory.
“I’ve earned a chance to show what I can to do to help this team. Coach (Herbert) always talks about the value of drawing the defense inside before kicking the ball outside for open looks. Having no one in your face when you shoot is the best. I am happy for our team with this win,” Yung said.
Grain Valley and Winnetonka both found themselves in foul trouble as the fourth quarter progressed. The Eagles were able to manage the accumulation of fouls with timely substitutions, while continuing to apply tight pressure on the defensive end of the floor.
Eagles Head Basketball Coach Andy Herbert described the play of his team as the recipe for the victory.
“Caden (Matlon) is a very good player. He’s a competitive guy who wants to do well for his team. Sometimes when you struggle, you press, and it can snowball. We talked the other day and I encouraged him to relax. He’s listened and open shots are starting to fall for him,” Herbert said.
“It’s a fine line for him because he has the ability to make tough shots. When those are the only looks you get and the first couple of tries don’t go in, it’s harder to get into rhythm offensively. He got his mojo back against Smithville last Friday and that carried into tonight.”
Herbert continued, “Jaden (Yung) has done a tremendous job. He played quite a bit last Friday in Smithville and had eight points in the first half. Jaden has been aggressive and confident with the minutes he’s earned. Defensively, his game has grown as well. He’s finding his way through what I like to call the mud. The little things it takes to be successful that not everyone sees; boxing out, rotating to help on defense, and understanding where to be offensively are the things he’s improved on the most.”
Herbert’s defensive strategy with being selective in when to apply full court pressure yielded positive results for the Eagles. The Griffins prefer to play a half court style of offense. Differing between press and man defenses by the Eagles provided empty scoring possessions for Winnetonka at times in the second half.
Altering between the two defensive alignments helped the Eagles manage the depth of their bench. Pressing for 32 minutes straight is a tall order for any team. The result was Grain Valley scoring 34 second half points, while limiting their opponent to just 20.
Grain Valley will be in action again on Friday, February 14th when they host the Grandview Bulldogs in a Suburban Conference Valentine’s Day matchup.
Herbert shared his thoughts on the needed elements for success moving forward.
“It’s imperative that we rebound. We are small with height. That means we must keep people in front of us. Every time you have to help a teammate defensively, you leave someone and must get all the way back to them to box out. Offensively, ball movement is key for us. When the ball moves, we are successful,” Herbert said.