“No energy,” Huntington Prep head coach Arkell Bruce said.
“There was a lack of effort and you can’t coach effort or energy.”
Spirit may not be something you can give to another person, so the Fighting Irish found it within themselves at halftime to take a 35-26 advantage and stretch it into a 93-64 victory.
Point contributions came from senior Miles Bridges who finished with 28 points and scored 20 in the second half, junior Onuralp Bitim had 16 points and 13 in the first half, junior Boko Mupungu scored 13, seniors Curtis Jones (12) and Ivan Gandia (10) combined for 22 and split four threes, senior Luka Petrovic had five and two steals within a minute, junior Trace Young scored four, sophomore Johnathan Kabongo hit a three in the third quarter and sophomore Arvin Dillon scored two in the fourth. Junior guard/forward David Bea Mulumba added a steal to the effort.
“Luckily in the second half they came out with more fight and energy,” Bruce said. “They were ready to play.”
“I think we played ok,” Bitim said. “We need to be better though because we have a very important tournament (Chick-Fil-A Classic) coming up but we were ok.”
“We played pretty good in the second half,” Mulumba said. “In the first half we had little energy but in the second half we picked it up and did what we had to do.”
What they had to do appeared to be more than only lighting a fire under themselves as the Eagles of the Cape Fear Christian Academy (NC) threw interchangeable zone defenses at Huntington Prep. Their 3-2 attempted to run Huntington guards from or pressure them at the arc and corner space was closed by the bottom players of the 3-2. The 2-3 did the same with its guards; spreading players to the arc and trying to limit the probability for a three-point shot to go in.
At 6:33 of an eight minute first quarter and down 2-0, Bruce called a timeout as his intuition recognized immediate confusion.
“The offense was stagnant,” Bruce said. “They didn’t know where to be and I just had to call a timeout and show them.”
Huntington Prep spread its four best perimeter shooters and ran a forward around the high post while slicing its corner shooter up to the high post for another option, but Huntington Prep’s largest deficit was an uncommon 12 points toward the end of the second half where they led 35-23. In the second quarter, Luka Petrovic scored the Irish’s first two-point field goal with a steal and lay-up at 1:23.
In third quarter alone, Huntington almost matched their halftime point total with 31. They didn’t settle for the three-point shot and dissected the Cape Fear defense by constantly driving through the zone and finding either Bridges or Boko Mupungu in the post or low block. Both forwards had multiple and-one opportunities because of this.
The same occurred in the fourth quarter and it was all done with the same offense that was run in the first half, only with a more paint-oriented focus that eventually opened up perimeter shots. As it turns out, the zones really weren’t a factor.
“It didn’t affect our offense,” Mulumba said. “We were taking the wrong shots.
We weren’t making the right decisions like we did in the second half. We just had a lot of energy in the second and that made the whole game.”
“They weren’t a factor at all really,” Bruce said. “It was just more of a gimmicky defense. We just had to slow it down and seek perimeter shots.”
Turkish guard Bitim, the No. 3 ranked European player in his class according to Eurohopes, found his game after a brief two-game snag in his blossoming stint at Huntington Prep.
Bitim had the pass of the night; slithering through two men with crafty foot-work, jumping straight up into a defender for a lay-up but turning his head back to the perimeter and pushing a pass with both hands to his right and behind him in order to find Mupungu for an easy bucket under the basket.
“I was more comfortable in this game,” Bitim said. “I’ve had two bad games in a row and I was nervous. I’m just trying to relax out there right now. I’m trying to relax, stay in rhythm and be normal right now.”
Huntington Prep’s next opponent will be New Faith Christian (GA) at the Big E Classic in Proctorville, Ohio.
Tip-off starts on December 12 at 7:30.