While defeating the Marana Tigers, 56-43, the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks basketball team (12-0) displayed some of the reasons they are one of two unbeaten teams in Division I play in Arizona.
With senior Mitch Fischer still recovering from injuries, freshman Jacob Hampton assumed more of a scoring role with 14 points, including 6-7 from the free throw line.
Hampton shines because of his quickness, and his ability to create his own shot. Then, there’s Kyle Petty. Petty scored 12 points, as he made five of his 10 shots from the floor.
Petty, a senior, is known more for his play on the baseball diamond than on the basketball court.
“It’s my senior year and I’m enjoying as much as I can,” Petty said.
Petty didn’t join the basketball team until this year, but he certainly doesn’t look inexperienced.
Tyler Williams, who played quarterback for the football team, has a role but it’s not as a scorer.
“He was the MVP of the game,” said Nighthawks coach Brian Peabody. “We wouldn’t have won without him.”
Williams doesn’t score, but Peabody likes his ability to do all the subtle things well. He likens him to NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman.
A terrific athlete, Williams plays hounding defense and was a demon on the boards. Peabody pointed out that he had six offensive rebounds in the first half alone.
Also contributing were Alec Sonderman with nine points off the bench, and Travis Jefferies who banged inside for eight points in the first half.
The Nighthawks, despite their record, took nothing for granted against Marana (5-8).
They made their first four shots en route to a 9-6 lead. The Nighthawks built a 15-9 lead after the first quarter.
The Nighthawks have always been a strong defensive team under Peabody. They’re yielding only 50 points a game on the defensive end, and have held six of their last seven opponents below 50 points.
Sometimes, their defense is very good at pressing and forcing teams into ball handling mistakes, as evidenced by an earlier game when they forced 23 turnovers in the first half.
Marana did not fall into their trap very often. The Tigers constantly made extra passes, and were very patient. In the first half, the Tigers made only 10 turnovers.
“The players executed pretty well,” said Marana coach Jeff Laos.
“We passed the ball well, breaking the press,” said Marana’s Jordan Love.
“They (Marana) did a great job taking care of the basketball,” Peabody said.
Love led the Tigers with 14 points on 58 percent shooting.
“Jordan is extremely talented,” Laos said. “When he lets himself loose, he plays well.”
Love’s basket at the end of the first half highlighted an 11-5 run by the Tigers, which gave them a 24-23 halftime lead.
When Love scored to open the second half, while the Nighthawks missed their first four field goal attempts of the third, it looked like it might not be the Nighthawks night.
“They like to trap at the top,” Love said. “We needed to set up our offense quickly.”
Sonderman’s layup keyed a 7-2 Nighthawks run in the third. Petty put back an offensive miss, and Hampton nailed a three-pointer for a 30-28 lead.
An inexplicable foul by Marana with one second left in the quarter put Hampton on the free throw line where he sank two of three for a 34-28 third quarter lead.
“We started going back to basic stuff,” Peabody said. “High post. Low post. We were way more patient offensively.”
A steal and score by Hampton early in the fourth made it 38-32. Then Devon Roebuck buried a trey to cut it to 40-37 at the 5:25 mark, but that was as close as the Tigers would get.
Two free throws and a field goal by Fischer, and another layup by Sonderman lifted the Nighthawks lead back up to 48-37.
How does Marana continue to improve?
“We need to keep the score low,” Laos said. “And not get into a running game.”
“Our system is designed to get all five (players) involved.”