Handley beats Clarke in opener 64-51
BERRYVILLE — Handley boys’ basketball coach Tommy Dixon was far from pleased with consistency on offense in the team’s opener at Clarke County on Tuesday night.
With a much more experienced club on the floor, the Judges had trouble putting away the smaller Eagles, who were within a possession of taking the lead midway through the third quarter on several occassions.
When the fourth quarter arrived, Handley had a crucial run and that was enough to finally pull away for the win.
Jake Rudolph popped in a game-high 21 points — the same number of points the Judges put on the board in the final period — and Handley picked up a 64-51 victory to spoil the Eagles’ first game in their brand-new gym.
Without some hot early shooting from Rudolph (who hit three of his four 3-pointers in the first half) and a complete shutdown on defense, the Judges might have been sent home with an upset loss to a Clarke County team that graduated four starters from last season’s team.
“We took some shots that we shouldn’t have taken and we didn’t move the ball very well,” Dixon said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do a lot better job of that next time out.
“... We won and played ugly. That’s the bottom line.”
After holding a 32-22 lead at the half, the Judges (1-0) maintained their 10-point advantage in the early minutes of the third on a dunk-and-one from senior Darion Robinson and a dump-down-and-one from 6-foot-7 junior Cameron Jackson.
But over the last 6:28 of the third, Handley got out of a good flow and made just one more basket in the period, missing 11 of 14 shots in the stanza. The Judges got outscored 15-11 in the third and led by just six heading to the fourth quarter.
“We were just settling for things that weren’t good for us,” Dixon said. “We didn’t move the ball and we just got impatient. I think a lot of [my players] were more worried about ‘What I have to get from me instead of what we have to do for us.’”
The Eagles certainly had their chances, getting a shot in close from senior Cody Taylor (12 points, six rebounds), a 3-pointer off the left baseline from sophomore Sean McDonald (14 points, six rebounds), and a stickback from senior reserve Todd Benton to trail just 38-35 with 3:34 left in the third.
There were times the Eagles had the ball in the third when they were just a possession away from either tying the game or taking the lead. To Handley’s credit, it did not allow Clarke County to grab the momentum and, in turn, kept the lead safe.
Clarke County coach Brent Emmart felt a switch to a zone defense by Handley was not the kind of look his players took well to seeing.
“We had it down to a two-possession game and turned it right over two times in a row,” Emmart said. “[We] didn’t get a shot up, and had a call [player control foul] go the other way. The last two possessions of the third, [Handley] went zone and they stayed in it the entire fourth quarter.
“The complexion of the game changed and when they went to that zone, we had some empty possessions. Having empty possessions against a good team like that is going to hurt you. Their zone really changed everything — the whole flow of the game — when they switched defenses like that. It was the difference in the game, no doubt.”
When the Judges played to their inside strengths of key returners Robinson (game-high nine rebounds) and Jackson (16 points, 10-of-12 shooting from the foul line), they kept Clarke County at a disadvantage.
Clarke County junior posts Colton Chrane (three fouls in the first four minutes) and Josh Dulaney (four fouls in the game, no points) had matchup issues with two of Handley’s top inside players from last season’s Group AA, Division 3 quarterfinalist, and the Eagles had to look to the perimeter game for offense.
Senior guard Davey Hardesty (team-best 16 points) scored in spurts for Clarke County, but the dead-eye shooting of Rudolph early on helped the Judges get out to a lead they would hold over the final 29 minutes and gave Handley the instant offense the program has grown used to since he joined the team two years ago.
With a quick release off the dribble from behind the arc, Rudolph nailed a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter as Handley darted out to a 19-12 lead.
Getting a basket off a drive and a fadeaway to drop in the final two minutes of the first half gave Rudolph 13 points by the break. Not a bad start for a player that knows he will be counted on to be more of a consistent scorer as a senior.
“I try to be a good leader and keep the guys up,” Rudolph said. “Being the main option this year, I know I’ve got to step up to that [consistently]. I’m playing a lot more point guard this year so I’m adjusting to that. I’m trying to become more of a complete player, passing and getting more rebounds. I just want to be a good teammate.”
The Eagles were still close after Taylor knocked down two free throws after his steal with 6:37 left to play to make it 45-41 Handley. But just in the nick of time, Handley had its most crucial run of the game.
The Judges went on a 9-0 run, getting six of their total off turnovers (Clarke County had 24 turnovers in its loss) and pushed their lead out to 13 points.
Junior guard Jason Morgan scored in transition, backcourt and classmate Tre Brown (12 points) got position for a stickback, Jackson hit two free throws, Robinson made a nifty cross-over move for a basket, and Rudolph hit the front end of a two-shot foul for a 54-41 lead at the 4:26 mark to seal things.
Dixon was satisfied to see his returning players take charge of the game and put the outcome to rest in the end.
“A lot of it was we had four guys out there that knew what we had to do,” Dixon said. “I think that helped us a lot. Darion, Jake, Tre, and Cameron — they know what we need to do to secure things.”
Knowing that Clarke County might try to take the air out of the ball, Rudolph knew he and his teammates would just have to hang in and wait for their opportunity to salt the game away.
“We like to run and gun, but they like to slow it down on us,” Rudolph said. “They did a pretty good job of that and we struggled in our half-court sets. But we hit some big shots in big moments, and that helped us out a lot.
“We always know that if someone makes a run, we’ve got to make a run right back.”
Only nine players scored in the game, including just four for Clarke County. The Judges went a long way toward winning by making 18 of 21 free throws (86 percent), including 8 of 10 in the fourth quarter.