RUNAWAY: McWilliams scores 26, Academy feasts on Rogers turnovers to win 19-3A rivalry clash 69-42
MAKE YOUR MOVE: Academy junior point guard Darion Franklin (left) tries to drive past Rogers defender Zach Davis as teammates Chris Preddie (23), Tanner Rambeau (25) and Trae Rambeau look on during the 18th-ranked Bumblebees' 69-42 victory over the rival Eagles in Tuesday night's District 19-3A first-place battle at The Hive. Senior wing Jaylin McWilliams scored a game-best 26 points and Franklin had 14 as defending champion Academy (11-7) finished 6-0 in the first half of league play. Rogers junior guard Kade Sebek scored 17 points as the Eagles (10-9, 5-1) absorbed their first district defeat. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Winning the rebounding battle. Running the floor, finding open shooters and sharing the basketball. Pressuring the opponent into turnovers and turning defense into offense. All the things that Academy head coach James Holt wants his Bumblebees aim to do, they did in the second quarter of Tuesday night's District 19-3A first-place showdown against rival Rogers.
Senior wing Jaylin McWilliams scored 11 of his game-leading 26 points in the pivotal second quarter and senior guard Jerry Cephus made three layups in a 35-second span as Academy outscored Rogers 22-4 in that period, propelling the No. 18-ranked Bees to a 69-42 victory over the turnover-plagued Eagles at The Hive.
Junior point guard Darion Franklin scored 14 points and Cephus recorded 11 for two-time defending 19-3A champion Academy (11-7), which completed the first half of league competition at 6-0.
Junior guard Kade Sebek led Rogers with 17 points but was the only scorer in double figures for head coach Austen Stolte's Eagles (10-9, 5-1), who suffered their first district defeat and now have a one-game lead over third-place Cameron Yoe (12-4, 4-2). Senior forward Ben Hutka and senior center Ty Sebek had eight points apiece for Rogers, which was hindered by its 24 turnovers, 13 in the first half.
The clash of 19-3A co-leaders was close through the first quarter as Academy led 19-14, but the Bees then quickly broke the game open during a torrid second period in which McWilliams, Cephus and Franklin scored all 22 of their team's points while Rogers mustered only four points against aggressive defense en route to a 41-18 halftime advantage for Academy's opportunistic squad.
“That second quarter was probably the best we've done in terms of turning people over. We talk about offensively not giving up 1-on-0, catastrophic turnovers, but we want to force those defensively. There was a stretch there where it was steal, layup, steal, layup,” Holt said after Academy's 22nd consecutive district win dating to the 2018-19 season. “If (senior guard) Kollin (Mraz) gets a rebound, he's got a great arm and he'll just fling it down the floor. Jerry did the same thing. We've got guys who are unselfish enough that if somebody's open, they'll throw it up to them. That's tough to find at this level.”
Meanwhile, Rogers made three 3-point baskets in the first quarter – two by Kade Sebek and one by junior guard Jaxon Craig – but only one 3-pointer in the final three periods. The Bees limited the Eagles to a combined 10 points in the second and fourth quarters.
“I thought we really pressured the ball well and did a good job on the boards. Every game I've seen (Rogers) they've just killed teams on offensive rebounds, so that was one of our keys – keeping them to either one shot or, if we could turn them over, no shots,” Holt said. “That's one of the best ways they score, is getting offensive rebounds. They've got (Ty Sebek) inside who's big and (Hutka) is tough to block out, so we really stressed that guys may not be able to get the rebound, but they've got to block those guys out and our guards have to get rebounds. I thought we did a good job of fighting.”
After Rogers scored 14 first-quarter points despite its seven turnovers, the fact that Academy turned up its defensive intensity and allowed only 28 points in the final three quarters was exactly what Holt wanted to see.
“We did a good job of contesting shooters. Rogers has shot well this year in the games we've scouted, so we wanted to put a hand up on shooters and not give them any clean looks. We did a pretty good job of that,” said Holt, whose Bees have permitted 44.3 points per game in district action. “For us to be as good as we can be, we need to be a great defensive team. We pride ourselves on putting pressure on people and holding them to one shot and all the things that good defensive teams do.
“I think we're getting better. We're not where we need to be, but we're trying to get to the point where we're one of the best defensive teams in the state.”
The 6-foot-2 McWilliams was 19-3A's Most Valuable Player last season for Academy's 30-7 team that reached the Class 3A Region III quarterfinals before losing to Crockett in that round for the second straight year. Also a big-play wide receiver and defensive back in football, he missed the final two games of the Bumblebees' playoff season because of a suspension that also forced him to sit out the first 11 games of this basketball season.
McWilliams rejoined the team in late December and Academy is 6-1 since his return after the Bees absorbed six defeats by mid-December as they played a slew of higher-classification and/or state-ranked opponents. His stellar performance against Rogers – highlighted by athletic, slashing moves for close-range baskets – indicates that McWilliams is recapturing the form that helped him become a dominant player last season. That bodes well for the Bees as they strive to win their third straight district title and build momentum for another playoff run.
“Obviously we're a better team with him on the floor. I mean, that's obvious. But even more than that, the chemistry is there,” Holt said. “We had great chemistry last year. The guys all get along. Him being back . . . he's getting in better shape, he's getting back in basketball form. He hadn't played since last February basically, because we couldn't get in the gym very much (due to COVID-19 factors). He's getting back into it and the guys are developing that chemistry that I think is going to help us.”
Academy jumped out to a 8-2 lead against Rogers on baskets by McWilliams, Tanner Rambeau, Franklin and Cephus, but two 3-pointers by wiry guard Kade Sebek and one by Craig helped keep the Eagles afloat before Franklin nailed a 3 from the right corner for a 19-14 Bees lead after the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, it didn't take long for Academy turn a competitive duel into a runaway.
Franklin made a 3 from the right corner, then passed to McWilliams for a point-blank hoop. McWilliams followed with a left-corner 3 for a 29-16 lead. Rogers attempted to halt Academy's charge with a timeout, but it was to no avail. Franklin turned a steal into a layup, then Mraz fired a long pass that McWilliams leaped to catch before laying it in with his left hand.
Another steal-and-score sequence by McWilliams made it a 19-2 run for a 35-16 Bees lead 3:15 before halftime. Kade Sebek finally broke the Rogers drought with a left-elbow jumper, but Cephus provided the final burst of the first half. The senior shooting guard converted a turnover into a left-handed scoop layup, scored easily off a steal and then spun across the lane for a nifty, lefty shot off the glass – three buckets in a 35-second span in the final minute – to give Academy a commanding 41-18 halftime advantage.
The Bees sputtered a bit in the third and rugged post player Ty Sebek scored all eight of his points in that quarter as Rogers outscored Academy 18-12, but five points by senior post Rambeau and a right-corner 3-pointer by sophomore Scout Brazeal allowed the Bees to remain comfortably ahead at 53-36 after three periods.
McWilliams then sealed the outcome with a rapid-fire flurry of four close-range baskets in the first 1:38 of the fourth, punctuated by a high-rising hoop off Franklin's lob pass.
Mraz and junior guards Chris Preddie and Trae Rambeau scored only two points each, but Holt commended their defensive work that helped to limit Rogers to 25 points less than its previous district average of almost 67 per game.
“Those guys had to take the job of guarding their best players, so they spent the whole time guarding Hutka, who's their leading scorer,” Holt said. “They did a good job of that, and that's what they needed to do in this game. We've got a balanced team, so if you take one person away I think we can still be able to put up points, which is what good teams usually have. You have more than just one player.”
Academy begins the second half of its district schedule at Lexington on Friday and will host Caldwell next Tuesday. Rogers seeks to bounce back at home against Florence on Friday before the Eagles host Yoe in a key game next Tuesday.
No. 18 Academy 69, Rogers 42
Rogers 14 4 18 6 – 42
Academy 19 22 12 16 – 69
Rogers (10-9, 5-1) – Kade Sebek 17, Ben Hutka 8, Ty Sebek 8, Zach Davis 4, Jaxon Craig 3, Riley Dolgener 2.
Academy (11-7, 6-0) – Jaylin McWilliams 26, Darion Franklin 14, Jerry Cephus 11, Tanner Rambeau 7, Scout Brazeal 5, Kollin Mraz 2, Chris Preddie 2, Trae Rambeau 2.
3-point field goals – Rogers 4 (K. Sebek 3, Craig 1); Academy 5 (Franklin 2, Brazeal 1, Cephus 1, McWilliams 1).
Free throws – Rogers 4-8; Academy 6-10.
Junior varsity A: Academy 38, Rogers 24.
Junior varsity B: Academy def. Rogers.