When 6-foot-9 Alter senior Jacob Conner dunked on an alley-oop pass from Ryan Chew and followed that with a 3-pointer, the Knights were up 9-0 with 4:50 left in the first quarter. Then A.J. Leen made a 3-pointer, Conner scored inside and Chew hit a 3-pointer. And CJ coach Charlie Szabo called his second timeout. He saw this in December when Alter jumped to a 16-5 lead after one quarter.
“Our effort and our intensity,” Szabo said. “We knew we had to match them for four quarters and same story as the first game. We came out tentative. We didn’t come out with defensive intensity, we didn’t come out with toughness with the ball, and they did.”
This time, however, it kept getting worse for the Eagles, who struggled to get a good open shot and committed a handful of turnovers. Chew hit another 3-pointer and Anthony Ruffolo opened the second quarter with another one for a 23-0 lead. CJ finally scored when Luke Chandler made two free throws with 6:50 left in the half.
“Defensively is what I really think was the key for us,” Conner said. “Obviously holding a team to zero points in a quarter is a pretty good feat. Being able to do that and play off our defense and play in transition is one of the things we like to do. So it was definitely one of the best quarters you could imagine.”
CJ found itself in the second quarter and got as close as 14 to start the fourth. But stringing together enough defensive stops to come back on this Alter team is nearly impossible. The Knights have five starters who can make 3-pointers and handle the ball well enough to be the point guard. And when the defense takes away the 3-point shot, driving lanes open.
“We’re hard to match up with, and I don’t think any team looks forward to playing us,” Coulter said. “I wouldn’t. It’s a special group.”
Any of the five can be the leading scorer. Against CJ it was Ruffolo with 20, Chew with 19 and Conner with 15. Leen scored eight and Gavin Geisel had two. That adds up to 64.
“Their issue is there’s not one person to game plan for,” Szabo said. “They can all shoot, they can all dribble, they can play. So we’re limited in what we can scheme. Everybody’s got to guard – that’s it. We didn’t do it as a team.”
A big difference for the Knights this year is having Chew for the full season. Last year as a transfer he had to sit out the second half of the season by state rule. This year he is running the offense and guarding the opponents’ best perimeter player. Coulter said Chew is one of the best on-the-ball defenders he’s coached and has allowed the Knights to play much more man-to-man defense than in the past when they’ve been known for their matchup zone.
“He’s their engine – he plays like his hair’s on fire,” Szabo said of Chew. “And I think those guys feed off of him. He’s very important to them.”
Chandler scored 14 points, Jonathan Powell 13 and Evan Dickey 10 to lead CJ. The Eagles haven’t had a chronic problem with slow starts, just against Alter.
“Their kids are hungry to start the game and they play like that for four quarters,” Szabo said. “The problem is the consistency. To be a great team, to beat great teams you have to play with that intensity and that effort for 32 minutes. And that’s just something we haven’t mastered yet.”