Chase set for showdown
The East and Shelby game isn’t the only big showdown on tap in Rutherford County tonight. Two contrasting styles of play will collide on the Henrietta hardwood as the Chase Trojans (9-4, 2-2 SMAC) face off with the Freedom Patriots (12-3, 2-2 SMAC).
“We have size, they have speed,” said Chase head coach Joe Jessen. “I don’t know a lot about their program, but I do know they are undersized and fast.”
Fast may be an understatement as the Patriots employ an unconventional five guard lineup designed to push the tempo on offense and trap on defense.
“We want to run and score a lot of points,” said Freedom head coach Casey Rogers. “We need to get out and run so we can get the score where we need it to be.”
Spearheading the Patriots fast breaking offense will be junior point guard Darrion Evens, who leads the team in both points (15.6) and assists this season.
“Darrion is the spark plug that makes our team go,” Rogers said. “But three of our other starters also average double figures, I think we are a pretty balanced team.
Due to that speed and balance, the Trojans’ transition defense will be a major factor tonight’s contest.
“We have to get back and stop dribble penetration and easy baskets,” Jessen said. “If we give up easy baskets then they (Freedom) can set up their press and it’s going to be a long night.”
When Chase is on offense, expect the Trojans to play in the half court in order to keep the score low.
“We have to keep the game in the 40- to 50-point range,” Jessen said “If it gets much high than that, we are in trouble. We can’t run with them and that’s okay We just have to stay patient and run our set plays.”
That may not be easy as Jessen admits the Trojans have historically had a hard time settling into a half court.
“This Chase team loves to run and they are good at it,” Jessen said. “It’s difficult to tell kids not to do something that comes naturally to them. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t run at all, but we are going to play mostly a half court game.”
The Trojans are not keeping those half court sets a secret as Chase plans to pound the paint with one of their four players that stand at 6-foot-3 or taller.
“That’s an area where we have a clear advantage,” Jessen said. “Freedom just can’t match our size down low. I’m expecting big games from Caleb Lancaster and those guys. If we can get double digits from each of them, we will be in great shape to win the basketball game.”
If the Trojans do come away with a win, Chase will sit in third place in the SMAC, a fact that is not lost on Jessen or his team.
“This is a huge game because of what it means in our conference, but also for what it means to our program,” he said. “In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that it’s one of the biggest games in Chase basketball history. To come as far as we have come and to be in this position in such a short time is just amazing. Win or lose I’m so proud of this team.”
Tipoff for tonight’s pivotal contest is set for 7:30 p.m., immediately following the girl’s game which is slated for 6 p.m.