That was the only word Clermont Northeastern head coach Jason Iles wrote on the white board before the Rockets’ game on Tuesday, Dec. 20 against conference rival Williamsburg.
“I told them we had to believe and we’ve got to be ready to play,” Iles said. “That was the message I sent to the team and that’s what my kids came out and did.”
The Rockets took advantage of a huge first quarter and shut-down defensive pressure en route to their first win of the season, 59-42.
Iles stressed to his team in the practices leading up to the game the importance of getting off to a quick start and burying the Wildcats early. From the tip, the Rockets’ intensity was palpable.
Williamsburg’s Michael Posey scored the first basket of the game on a nice post move, getting his defender in the air. From there, the Rockets scored 12 straight points, giving themselves a 10-point lead with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter.
“We’ve been stressing defensive intensity all week and getting after it, being ready to play,” Iles said of the quick start. “Tonight, we came and we were ready to play basketball. That’s something we’ve lacked.”
The fast start knocked Williamsburg on their heels as they struggled to score the ball. CNE had no such problem with each of their five starters finding their way into the scoring column within the first three minutes of the game.
“We got a lot of people involved early through our defense,” Iles said, “We went back and adjusted some things… we got some open looks and we finished.”
The Rockets were fueled by senior guard Alex Gilkerson’s two three-pointers in the opening minutes of the game, sparking the early CNE run. Jay Teaney added another dimension to the Rockets’ offense with his drives, which opened up teammates for good looks at the basket.
The Rockets’ defensive pressure was evident all over the court, but it was the most prevalent with their play against Williamsburg’s Kendal Young.
“Kendal Young is one of the best players in the conference and we knew that coming in,” Iles said. “I’ve got three tremendous defensive players and they really get after it. We wanted to face-guard him and make the other four guys beat us.”
CNE did an exceptional job in the first quarter of limiting Young’s touches. Young was only able to get off one field goal attempt in the quarter, a contested fade away jumper off of an inbounds play, which he made.
When the dust settled after the massive Rockets’ first quarter, the home team led 21-9.
The Wildcats came out in the second quarter ready to chip away at the 12-point cushion CNE had built. Williamsburg point guard Jacob Herren led the charge with his penetration into the Rockets’ zone. Posey, who scored the first basket of the game, got back on track with three-straight layups.
The only problem for Williamsburg was that CNE was answering with scores of their own. Every time the Wildcats would whittle down the Rockets’ lead, someone would be there for CNE to keep them in the clear. In the second quarter, it was Derick Schmidt. The 6-foot-4 junior played the garbage man, fighting for offensive rebounds and putting them back up for easy buckets.
“The first four games have been very rough for him and tonight he came out and posted a double-double,” Iles said.
Everything was going Clermont’s way. Holding for the last shot of the half, the Rockets got into their set a little late with time winding down, forcing the Rockets to toss up a three-pointer with two seconds remaining. The shot didn’t draw iron, but Schmidt was under the basket to rebound the errant shot and lay it in as time expired, keeping the CNE lead at 12, 34-22.
In the third quarter, it was more of the same for CNE with the only difference being the player that stepped up to lead the charge. Looking for someone to go inside and bang with the big bodies of Williamsburg, Iles turned to Zach Myers.
“He’s been battling a knee injury and I ran him in there and he was ready to play. He’s a gamer,” Iles said. “He’s a 5’8” center; he gets in there and plays with the big boys. He did a great job for us. “
Aside from bringing some defense and effort on the boards, Myers scored four of the Rockets’ seven points in the quarter.
Again, the CNE defense was stout, giving up just five points in the third as the Rockets took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter, 41-27.
Trailing by double-digits, Williamsburg tried to extend the game by fouling CNE and forcing them to make their free throws. The Rockets did a fair job of making the Wildcats pay, hitting 13 of 20 in the fourth quarter from the charity stripe.
Throughout the game, the one constant was CNE’s denying of the ball from Young. The Rockets ran three guys at Young, a conference All-Star a year ago, forcing him to go two-for-seven from the floor, scoring just eight points.
“[Jeff] Johnson, [Trey] Johnson and [Austin] Thompson really get after it, they push us every day in practice,” Iles said of his three-headed defensive monster.
Things got a little chippy towards the end of the game with a couple of hard fouls exchanged between CNE’s Myers and Williamsburg’s Posey, but the damage had been done as the Rockets rolled to their first win of the season, 59-42.
Herren led the way for Williamsburg with 11 points and Posey added 10. Williamsburg dropped to 2-4 on the year.
Clermont Northeastern had nine players score, including three in double figures (Teaney 10, Schmidt 13, Lucas Wolfe 10). The Rockets improved to 1-4 on the year and Coach Iles hopes that what he saw against Williamsburg will continue.
“The kids believe and they know they can do it,” Iles said. “And that’s the difference.”
Williamsburg (2-4) – Workman 2 1 5, Herren 4 0 11, Forsee 0 1 1, Felts 0 1 1, West 1 1 3, Young 2 4 8, Posey 5 0 10, Reed 1 1 3. Totals: 15 9 42.
Clermont Northeastern (1-4) – J. Johnson 1 0 2, Teaney 3 4 10, T. Johnson 1 1 3, Myers 3 2 8, Schmidt 5 3 13, Cornett 0 1 1, Gilkerson 2 2 8, Thompson 2 0 4, Wolfe 2 6 10. Totals: 19 19 59.
Halftime: Clermont Northeastern 34-22. 3-pointers: W 3 (Herren 3); CN 2 (Gilkerson 2).