By Mike Monahan
Last Friday Mt. Zion won the Paris Thanksgiving Tournament over Charleston 64-44.
Mt. Zion led by just five heading into the fourth quarter.
Six days later, the Trojans turned the tables on the Braves with a 71-51 victory Thursday at Baker Gym. It was a 40-point turnaround for CHS.
All of this in the Apollo Conference opener for both teams happened with first-year Charleston coach Cody Drone is quarantined and is expected back early next week. In his place was junior varsity coach A.J. Alexander, who coached varsity for several years at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“With it being coach Drone’s team, he has instilled that defense is at the forefront and his guys are really buying into it,” said Alexander. “That defense that they showed tonight is the defense that coach Drone has been preaching since day one of the open gyms. It is good to see that come into fruition. We know there are ways we can still get better. We just know it was a great defense effort , they showed it, and they really bought into coach Drone’s system. I think we are going to keep getting better and better from a defensive standpoint.”
Charleston held Mt. Zion to 18-of-50 (.360) from the field, including 7-of-23 (.304) from beyond the 3-point line.
It was the first time Charleston won the Apollo opener since beating Salem 56-47 in the 2015-16 season. It is the first time since the 2009-10 season that the Trojans have started 4-2.
“I think we really came out as a team and focused on getting the offensive rebounds and playing the whole game hard,” said Charleston’s Jaksen Braun, who finished with a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. “Coach Alexander steered us in the right direction and got us ready for today’s game. We came out and played hard the way we needed to and got the job done.”
Charleston was 12-of-19 (.632) from the field in the second half and finished 22-of-42 (.523) for the game. Free throw shooting also helped as the Trojans were 22-of-26 (.846).
Mount Zion, coached by former Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond coach Dale Schuring, led 18-17 when Charleston took the lead for good, closing the first half on a 12-4 in the last three minutes. Will Applegate started the run with a 3-pointer and Caleb Oakley’s basket made it 22-18. Four points by Braun and a free throw by Oakley made it 27-22. Oakley’s basket near the buzzer game CHS a seven-point lead.
The Braves remained close, trailing 35-29 on a basket by Cameron Clark on an assist by Ethan Hamrick. Charleston started to pull away with a 14-5 run in the final 4:09, starting with baskets by Smitley and Applegate. A three-pointer by Braun drew big cheers from the student section as the Trojans led 42-29. Charleston, who scored 20 points in each of the last three quarters, led 49-34 heading into the final quarter.
“That is when we started feeling confident (after three). The pace was really there and it felt good,” said Applegate. “We fed off each other’s momentum.”
A three-point play by Braun pushed the lead to 19 and Mt. Zion didn’t get closer than 13.
“It means a lot coming off last year’s 2-14 season,” said Braun. “It means a lot to come out and start the conference season with a win. And many more of these to come for sure. We try and make it a key every game, but tonight it was a little more of an emphasis especially against them last time we really got beat on the board. In practice Wednesday we really focused on beating them on the glass; getting every rebound possible.”
Charleston led in rebounds, 36-21.
The Braves, who are 4-1 for the first time since 2014-15 and were 4-0 for the first time in over 10 seasons, were led by Hamrick with 21 points and Jack Driscoll with 11.
The 71 points is the most since scoring 81 in the first game, while the 51 for the Braves, who were without 6-7 junior Carson Cuddy, was the fewest this season.
“We talk about getting the ball into the paint whether it is post touches or whether it is drives,” said Alexander. “Either they have to come up and contest you or you might get a foul or when they collapse you get a kick out. That is why I always say to the guys play to our high percentage shots first; if they can’t stop it we keep going. If they collapse, that is where our open 3s come into play. I think our guys showed so much discipline on offense, especially down the stretch, which was so cool to see. I hope they keep that rolling that is for sure. It stinks that Drone is not here, but I know we will be ready to rock and roll when he gets back.”
CHARLESTON: Smitley 3 2-2 9, Applegate 6 7-7 21, Becker 2 0-0 4, Braun 8 2-3 19, Oakley 2 8-10 13, Pankey 1 1-2 3, Bonstetter 0 2-2 2, Pounds 0 0-0 0, Howell 0 0-0 0, Totals 21 22-26 71
3-point goals: Charleston 5-13 (Smitley 1, Applegate 2, Braun 1, Oakley 1). Rebounds: Charleston 36 (Braun 13). Turnovers: Charleston 18. Shooting percentage: Charleston 22-42 (.524)