The new basketball season began on a sour note for the Westminster Christian Academy boys squad.
The Lions hosted Nathanael Greene Academy and dropped a 62-50 decision on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Lions head coach Steve Crouse said he expected a tough challenge out of the visiting Patriots but, if a few more shots had fallen, Westminster could have scored a win.
“I thought our guys played hard,” Crouse said. “[NGA is] a really good basketball team. We played them last year and they shot a whole lot better this year. I thought we were better shooters than we showed tonight but you're not better if it's not going in.”
Westminster got off to a scorching start, putting NGA in a 9-1 hole on the strength of two 3-pointers by Peyton Deep. The defense was strong early, too, because Westminster did not allow a field goal until 2:42 remained in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Lions, NGA shook off the early deficit and took a 12-11 lead after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer ended the first period.
“We hit some early shots,” Crouse said. “We thought we could maintain that and we couldn't. They extended their zone and we just didn't stay hot all night. We've got to be consistent shooters.”
Turnovers and fouls hampered Westminster in the second quarter. Still, the Lions kept things close and trailed 31-25 at halftime.
After the break, though, many of Westminster’s miscues persisted. That time around, its defense could not slow down the Patriots as effectively as it did in the first half.
Westminster fell behind 52-35 through three quarters. That was largely due to a scoring drought by the Lions.
“Some of that is practice reps, some of that is shooting the shot in the rhythm of the offense, some of that is having the right guy shoot,” Crouse said when asked about why his team’s offense struggled at times. “Most of [NGA's] threes came from two players. We had six different guys shoot threes. That's not what we're about.”
The fourth period, however, saw the Lions nearly stage a comeback.
Westminster made it a 52-40 game before a 3-point play by the Patriots pushed their lead up to 55-40 with 4:06 to play.
The Lions had that score down to 55-42 less than 15 seconds later. They cut it to 55-44 before NGA hit a 3-pointer to pull further ahead.
NGA went up 58-46 then 60-46 before Westminster scored 4-straight points to make it 60-50 with 1:15 left in the game.
But the Lions could not push any close after that and NGA tacked on 2 more points to secure the 62-50 win.
The fourth-quarter effort was not necessarily too little, too late for the Lions, but Crouse said they did not help themselves by giving up points just as quickly as they scored.
“You've got to love that kind of effort,” Crouse said regarding the fourth quarter. “That's what we want to do regardless of the scoreboard. I'm proud of our guys for doing that. But, we cut it down and then we gave up an and-one on the other end. We get a stop but we don't score; we have a missed layup coming back the other way. If you're going to be good, you can't do that, and we want to be good.”
COVID-19 forced the cancellation of numerous summer activities. That means many teams are just now playing together with the beginning of the regular season.
For a team like Westminster, which graduated four seniors from last season, the players’ lack of chemistry is sometimes apparent. It did not help that the Lions played an upperclassmen-heavy opponent on night one.
Crouse said he thinks experience will carry certain teams during the early portion of the season while younger teams find their footing.
“I think you'll see that early: The veteran teams are gonna be ready to play on day one even though they didn't play much in the summer,” Crouse said. “The guys who are trying to piece together and say, 'Who do I got?' will probably struggle.”
The good news for the Lions is they are just getting started.
Barring any changes due to COVID-19, the team is scheduled to play a normal set of games for 2020-21. As the defending champion and Final Four representative from last season, Crouse said he wants his team to reach similar levels of success this season, too.
“You can't do that in February if you're not playing well and improving from November to December,” Crouse said. “That's our goal: We want to get better, we want to improve November to December, see where we are at Christmas, keep making adjustments and get into region play in January.”