With seven seniors departing from a team that reached the 2012 MPSSAA 4A West Region Finals and just two seniors on the current roster, the Winston Churchill Bulldogs entered the 2012-13 season facing some questions including whether they could continue to maintain the high level of play that has re-invigorated the Churchill basketball program over the past two seasons (37 wins and back-to-back division championships). It took about three minutes early in the second half of Wednesday night’s season opening game against Damascus for the Bulldogs to begin to answer that question.
After an inconsistent first half that offered both hope and concern for the Bulldog faithful, Churchill came out firing on all cylinders with a strong defensive effort that forced numerous turnovers and extended a 35-27 halftime lead to a 57-35 at the end of the third quarter. From that point forward, the Bulldogs never looked back en route to a 68-53 victory in their 2012-13 season opener. It was the fourth consecutive season-opening victory for the Bulldogs.
Early on, the young Bulldog team struggled on both ends of the court as it let a 9-2 early lead slip away quickly to trail 19-15 at the end of the first quarter. The 17-6 Damascus run was fueled largely by Churchill’s sloppy play on the offensive end and opportunistic scoring by Damascus. The Bulldogs used a much improved second quarter defensive effort combined with better offensive execution to regain an eight point lead going into the half at 35-27. Junior guard Malik Harris (14 first half points) and senior forward Bryant Wheatley (11 first half points) shouldered the first half scoring load for Churchill.
“With a young team playing their first game together, you expect some inconsistency,” Churchill coach Matt Miller explained. “But we were not playing the type of basketball (in the first quarter) on either end that we expect from our guys regardless of their experience. So we told the guys to settle down, re-focus, and get back to basics, especially on defense. The guys responded and I really liked our effort from that point forward. It was a good first win but we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
The Bulldogs, who shot 50% from the field for the game, were led on the offensive end by Harris with 22 points on the evening. Wheatley added 11 points and junior guard Allen Njumbe also contributed 11 points. Sophomore forward Bobby Arthur-Williams came off the bench to contribute 8 points and 8 rebounds and junior point guard Matt Moshyedi played a solid game while running the point.
Defensively, the Bulldogs had 13 steals and held the Hornets to just 16 points combined in the second and third quarters as Churchill secured the victory.
“I thought Malik and Bryant really helped us get through that first half offensively and then Allen picked it up in the second half,” Miller noted. “I also thought Bobby came off the bench and did some nice things especially on the offensive glass and Matt was a steadying presence for us out there all night. But most importantly, we generally defended and rebounded well as a team after the first quarter. With our team, defense and rebounding have to be there every night for us to be successful.”
The Bulldogs will face the Sherwood Warriors, 2012 MPSSAA 4A semifinalists, on Saturday at 7:00 pm at Sherwood and Miller is aware of the challenge that lies ahead: “We are going to need a great effort Saturday against a well-coached and talented team. This is a good early season test for us on the road. We need to experience that environment and see how we respond.”
Story reposted from Bulldogs Email Newsletter
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