For the first time in more than a month, Westminster Christian Academy’s boys basketball team saw official action last Saturday.
Following a bevy of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lions played their first game since early December when they hosted Lake Oconee Academy. Westminster beat the Titans 69-37 to start the 2021 portion of their schedule on a high note.
Though the game was close early, the Lions showed little evidence of rust build-up following the long layoff.
“It's just a credit to the young men,” Westminster head coach Steve Crouse said. “They work hard all the time. That's something I tell them. I say, ‘Guys, effort is not something we've got to work on. I know you're gonna play hard, know you're gonna practice hard. We've just got to figure out what game flow looks like for us.’”
It helped that the Lions had a scrimmage a few days earlier.
According to senior Peyton Deep, the team competed against former players and players’ fathers in a pickup game last Thursday in preparation for their return to official games.
Seth Lowry, the leading scorer against LOA, said the scrimmage helped the team jell ahead of the Saturday contest.
“I think a part of it was just being able to play together,” Lowry said. “Coming into the scrimmage, we were playing a lot of one-on-one basketball. In this game, it was evident that we trusted our teammates and we showed that we're not selfish.”
The score stood at 12-8 in favor of Westminster at the end of one quarter.
By the time LOA called a timeout with 6:25 left in the second quarter, the Lions’ lead was up to 19-10.
Just over three minutes later, Westminster had surged to a 32-14 advantage. What happened next blew the game open for good.
Carter Kirkpatrick entered the game and ripped off three consecutive steals during a short span of time. Two of those steals came right after LOA inbounded the ball to begin a new possession.
To go with Kirkpatrick’s steals, the Lions knocked down three-straight 3-pointers. That 9-point swing happened between roughly the 1:40 and 1:00 mark of the second quarter.
Westminster enjoyed a 45-19 halftime lead following the spurt.
“I told my guys at halftime, ‘That spurt right there was cumulative from the pressure we started applying halfway through the first quarter,’” Crouse said. “It just starts to wear them down. We've got a little deeper bench than they did. ... That was good for us.”
Deep said the Lions excel at ripping off steals thanks to their preparation and knowledge of the game.
“I think we figured out their press break,” Deep said. “We're a pretty smart team, so we had a lot of kids jumping on certain things that they did on the press and reading not just where the pass is but where the next pass is gonna be.”
The Lions used more steals in the second half to keep the game out of reach. Lowry, in particular, scored multiple layups after stealing the ball or receiving a pass from a teammate who had stolen it.
In the end, Westminster had a dominant win to show for its return to action.
Lowry paced the team with 17 points followed by Deep with 15.
Mark Smith finished with 7 points, Luke Sutton had 6, Bailey Early had 4 and Kirkpatrick had 2.
The scoring spread is due to the selfless attitude that permeates the team, Deep said.
“We just have a bunch of unselfish players,” Deep said. “Nobody's selfish on our team. We know if somebody hits one, you want to get him the ball next time. There's a lot of guys that can shoot out there and go to the goal. We just have great chemistry.”
The Lions were scheduled for three region games this week.
With the schedule picking up, they aim to keep improving on their recent success.
To begin with, Deep said the team could improve upon its rebounding ability, if for no other reason than the fact the Lions are shorter than most teams they will face. Deep also said the team needs to cut down on its turnovers.
Lowry said the team’s already-heavy focus on shooting will continue, too.
For Crouse, he wants to see his players continue making improvements across the board.
“With the exception of Patrick Butts, we're not very tall, so we have to be able to defend well, contest shots in the half-court and rebound well in the half-court,” Crouse said. “There will be some teams that are more athletic than us and we cannot run like we did [Saturday] so we've got to be able to play better in the half-court, defensively and offensively, once we get into region play.”