By Jeremy Balan
The Bay boys basketball team largely accomplished its main objective on Tuesday against Gateway by limiting the Gators’ standout frontcourt with a stingy 2-3 zone, but the Breakers couldn’t limit it on defense.
The Gators held Bay to 26 percent shooting from the floor, and combined with 11 blocks, limited the Breakers to a season-low point total in their 50-34 Bay Counties League Central win at Letterman Gym.
Both teams came into the game undefeated in league play, but the game looked like a mismatch early. Gateway (10-2, 4-0) led 17-4 after the first quarter and the Breakers (10-8, 4-1) shot just 1-of-15 from the floor in the opening frame.
“Their length definitely bothered us,” said Bay head coach Pete Overfelt. “Early in the game, we were getting our shots, but we just couldn’t convert. That, combined with them closing out harder, really got in our heads.”
Bay’s poor overall shooting numbers were even skewed by a hot third quarter, in which the Breakers shot 7-of-12 from the floor and cut a 13-point halftime deficit to 32-28 late in the frame.
Gateway’s defensive performance in the fourth quarter, however, put the game away. The Gators combined for five blocks in the final eight minutes and held the Breakers to just six points to pull away comfortably.
“Bay is such a good shooting team that we had to take away their ability to shoot the three without being contested, and if they go inside, we have our big guys in there,” said Gateway head coach Greg Grossman. “We focused on the perimeter and let our guys clean up down low, and it worked well.”
The Gateway defensive effort was led by 6-foot-6 senior center Kenechi Anigbogu, who had a game-high four blocks, but three other players tallied multiple rejections, even 6-foot guard Asante Munson. The junior had just two points and only took two shots from the floor, but contributed with two blocks and nine rebounds.
Anigbogu, the main target of Bay’s zone, got plenty of touches, but struggled to get the ball in a position to score close to the basket. The senior still scored a game-high 14 points and his defensive effort was rewarded in the final moments of the game. On a two-on-one fast break, Anigbogu put the finishing touches on the win with a two-handed, alley-oop dunk on an assist from guard Fernando Portillo.
“The kids love it,” Grossman said of the dunk, a rarity in small-school prep basketball. “It doesn’t mean anything to anyone else, but if they put in the hard work, they deserve to get a play like that and celebrate it.”
The Gators largely controlled the paint and outrebounded the Breakers 42-25, paced by a double-double from senior forward Raymond Porter (10 points, 10 rebounds), but one Bay forward did his best to battle with the Gateway bigs. Junior center Jason Nemerovski finished tied for the team lead with eight points and took in a game-high 12 rebounds (seven offensive), nearly half of the Breakers’ rebounding total.
Despite the offensive struggles, Bay was able to stay in the game throughout on the strength of its zone. The Gators shot 40 percent from the floor, but often had extended possessions and many resulted in turnovers.
“Bay plays a great zone and it limits our big guys, and we’re a mediocre shooting team, so if we go cold from outside, it’s going to tighten up a little bit,” Grossman said. “They slowed us down offensively. We’ve been scoring 40 [points a half].”
While the win puts the Gators in the driver’s seat in the BCL Central, they were in the same position last season as the top seed in the league playoffs and were upset by fourth seed Leadership in the semifinals.
That loss pushed Gateway out of the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs, despite a 17-2 overall record (at-large NCS playoff bids also factor in strength of schedule). Even the Gators do gain entry to the loaded Division IV playoffs, which features defending state champion Salesian, Grossman does not have any delusions of grandeur.
“[Salesian head coach] Bill Mellis is a very close college friend of mine and I joked with him that if they won the state title, it would have had to go through us,” Grossman said. “Are we going to win a state title? No, we’re not, but it would be nice to get into NCS and give these guys a chance, and if we’re lucky, get a second game.”
Kenechi Anigbogu – 14
Raymond Porter – 10
Axavier Byrd – 9
Evan Derheim – 8
Sheden Mekonnen – 5
Jason Nemerovski – 8
Shawn Sie – 8
Lucas Knorr – 5
James Wasney – 5
Two players tied with 3 points