Defense keys early success for Cyclones

Allen LaMountain

   What started with a record-tying performance could blossom into a trip to Murfreesboro for the Elizabethton Cyclones in 2002.
   Senior guard/forward B.J. Miller ripped the Sullivan North Golden Raiders for a record-tying 39 points in the teams' season opening contest. Miller also dropped a school-record nine treys on the Raiders, who employed a strategy that most will adopt when facing Betsy this season.
   That strategy is... stop EHS' 6-7" senior post, Vince Redd. North did a tremendous job of taking Redd out of his game, but that simply set the stage for Miller's heroics -- and the Cyclones (5-0, 2-0 WC) have the blend of talent that can take them far this season.
   "We aren't in good enough shape yet to press full-court," said Cyclones head coach Tony Hardin after his teams opening night road win. "We will have to win with defense for right now. When we get in better shape, we will be able to press further down the floor."
   That means opponents will be getting the full measure of the EHS defense in the foreseeable future, and that is not a promising thing for Watauga Conference foes to look forward to either.
   "EHS is a complete basketball team," said Unicoi County head coach John English after seeing his team dismantled at Treadway Gym on Monday night 45-28 on a night that the Cyclones shot for their worst percentage of the season. "They put tremendous defensive pressure on you, and it isn't just the guy in the middle. Walter Brown and Lester Bailey are good perimeter defenders."
   For the season thus far EHS has forced it's opponents into 77 turnovers (15.4 per game) and have stolen the ball from their opposition 48 times. And this from a team that has yet to truly round into form shows how solid the Cyclones are on the defensive end of the court.
   Redd leads the squad with 14 steals, followed by Bailey and senior forward Jordan Lambert with 10 each.
   Steals and turnovers are just a few of the defensive contributions put forth by EHS as Betsy has also forced opponents into nightmare shooting nights.
   "No shot goes uncontested," said Council head coach Rick Goodman after the Cyclones knocked off his Cobras in the Highlands Classic. "They can also take some chances on the perimeter with their defense because of Redd's presence in the middle. They forced us into turnover after turnover and we could not get into an offensive rhythm."
   'Betsy has shot a solid 41.3 percent overall from the floor offensively on 102-of-247. On two-point tries EHS is a stellar 79-of-154 (51.3 percent) and the three's are falling at a rate of 23-of-93 (24.7 percent) so there is room for improvement on this end.
   Free throws could be problematic for EHS down the road when games get tighter and pressure mounts as EHS has hit on 63.2 percent of it's chances at the charity stripe (43-of-68) but should move into the 65-70 percent range in time.
   The one constant however, is the suffocating pressure the Cyclones can apply - and when they are rounded into basketball shape -- look for 'Betsy to demoralize its opponents with full-court pressure.
   "We will press and we will be a good pressing team," commented Hardin after an early win. "Right now the guys are in football shape, not basketball shape. We'll get there and our philosophy is to play together, play hard and play well. We want to bring energy and intensity to the court and our defense will translate to offense at the other end."
   Offensively, Miller has scored a team-leading 87 points (17.4 per game), with Redd next at 11.4, Lambert 10.2, Brown at 7.2 and Bailey scoring 5.2 points per game. As a team EHS has outscored its opponents 270-198 or an average of 54.0-to-39.6, which speaks volumes for the effort Betsy has put into playing defense.
   EHS opens fast as its 72-41 advantage in the first quarter indicates, and they slam the door in the fourth quarter, outscoring the opposition 81-51 in the fourth period. The Cyclones in the second period have a slight 52-50 advantage and is better in the third quarter with a 66-55 advantage, which says the Cyclones are a great second-half team.
   In defending the Cyclones, their opponents have been collapsing the defense inside, but Redd has simply gone over the top as he rained two-handed slams on each of EHS' opponents at the Highlands off alley-oop passes from the perimeter.
   With the combination of Redd inside, Miller and Lambert outside and Brown and Bailey slashing to the hole Hardin is not without offensive options, making the Cyclones an exciting team to watch and a multi-faceted opponent for WC squads to contend with.