Five weeks ago, after a 61-47 loss to the Bath Wildcats, Wapakoneta Redskins varsity boys basketball coach Matt Bradley challenged his team to ramp up its defensive effort.
Since that time, a span of seven games, the Redskins have given up no more than 55 points in any game.
They went 2-5 over that stretch, one of the toughest on the schedule with quality opponents such as Defiance, Ottawa-Glandorf and Liberty-Benton.
And it wonâ€™t get any easier Friday when veteran coach Dave Froelich brings his Van Wert Cougars to town.
The Cougars are 11-4 overall and 4-2 in the Western Buckeye League. Wapak is 5-10 and 2-4.
â€śI really think that since the Bath game at the beginning of January, I really do feel like weâ€™ve improved,â€ť Bradley said. â€śI think sometimes the guys think Iâ€™m nitpicking at them. I think coaches are never fully satisfied. But our defensive effort the last six or seven games has been much improved from the beginning of the season.
â€śBut weâ€™ve got to continue to defend. I think thatâ€™s going to be the difference between us being successful Friday night and from here on out is to continue to defend at a high level.â€ť
A year ago, a 74-33 loss to Van Wert became the turning point for Wapak as it closed out the season with a furious rally, including a sectional tournament win over the rival St. Marys Roughriders.
Corey Clifton led that Cougars squad to a Division II district championship. He has since graduated, but Van Wert returns a solid nucleus.
â€śA program like Van Wert, itâ€™s usually going to be more reloading than rebuilding,â€ť Bradley said. â€śCoach Froelich does a phenomenal job with that whole program. It seems like every year theyâ€™ve got a really, really strong JV team. Those guys are anxious to get their chance to play varsity and they make the most of it.
Key returners include Jacob Myers (6-foot, senior) and point guard Joey Hurless (6-0, junior).
â€śJacob Myers, I think, is the best pure scorer in the WBL,â€ť Bradley said. â€śHeâ€™s averaging just under 20 points a game. He can score in a variety of ways. They do a great job of getting him looks on different spots on the floor. Weâ€™ve got to be aware of where he is at all times.
â€śWeâ€™ve got to get back in transition. They do a really good job of, especially off of defensive rebounds, of looking to push.â€ť
Bradley said Van Wert is very similar offensively to Liberty-Benton, which beat Wapak 53-33 last Saturday.
â€ś[Hurless] does a really good job of penetrating and attacking and finding open guys,â€ť Bradley said. â€śKnowing where Myers is and getting back in transition are probably the two biggest keys for us.â€ť
Despite the loss to Liberty-Benton, Bradley saw positives from the past weekend, especially on the offensive end in the 60-40 win over St. Marys. The Redskins had 22 made field goals in that game and recorded 19 assists, 10 of those coming from senior guard Andy Faller.
â€śI think the fact that we played really unselfishly, that we were looking for open guys, passing up good shots for better ones â€” 19 out of 22 is phenomenal,â€ť Bradley said.
â€śSaturday, we were really pretty good defensively in a lot of cases. The times that we broke down or lost a shooter, Liberty-Benton made it. When the opponent takes advantage of open shots, that puts you behind the 8-ball. ... Weâ€™ve just got to maybe clean up some of those things. Weâ€™re working on that this week.â€ť
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