The Phoenix obviously listened.
Forcing 27 turnovers, scoring 18 points on offensive rebounds and blowing open a close game with a 18-5 third-quarter run, Oberlin opened league play with a convincing 64-49 win.
Both teams are now 1-2, 1-1 in the PAC.
“We started out 0-2, and coach just told us that this was a must win,” Oberlin senior Noland Isom said. “If we want to win the conference again like we did last year, we have to get off to a good start. Our intensity controlled most of the game, and we got the win.”
After shooting just 10-for-36 from the floor in the first half, Oberlin was fortunate to own a 24-23 lead at the break. Much of that lead was due to 12 Keystone turnovers and just seven first-quarter points by the Wildcats.
Keystone kept the game close in the second by outscoring the Phoenix 12-4 over the first four minutes of the period, while Oberlin was still suffering from cold shooting.
But soon after the break, Oberlin put its pressure defense to work again, running a 26-25 lead out to 38-25 by the 3:43 mark of the third quarter. The Phoenix were turning turnovers into layups, and taking advantage of trips to the free throw line, hitting eight straight in the period.
When the smoke cleared, Oberlin owned a 48-35 advantage heading into the final eight minutes, and never looked back.
“We’ve been playing like that since Day 1 of practice, but in our first two games we haven’t played as aggressively as that,” said senior Marcus Bailey, who tossed in a game-high 16 points for Oberlin.
“Coach Russell told us that we’ve lost because we aren’t doing the things in games that we do in practice, but tonight we did. We did everything he wanted us to do. We executed, hustled, trapped, busted our butts back to the other end of the court, and that’s what won us the ballgame.”
Oberlin shot better in the second half, connecting on 8-of-16 in its third-quarter blitz, and went 12-of-13 from the line in the final two periods.
Those numbers were more to the Russell’s liking.
“We practice all week on being patient on offense, and I think that tonight it really showed,” he said. “We looked for the wide-open shots, where in the first couple of games we rushed things a little bit. Tonight we did a much better job.”
Keystone coach Jeff Holzhauer admitted the pace of the game and Oberlin’s press took a toll on his team and especially its young backcourt.
“We just didn’t handle their pressure very well,” Holzhauer said. “It’s stuff we work on every day, but we reverted back to what we were doing in the preseason. Their pressure had a lot to do with that, but our guards just have to be better than that.
“And once we gave them a little bit of a lead, we had to switch things up defensively. And that gave them way too many open looks. I think they scored 18 points on offensive rebounds, and that can’t happen. We’re a good rebounding team and we normally box out well. We just didn’t focus on what we needed to do tonight.”
Jason Moore added 13 points and Isom 12 to go along with Bailey’s 16 for the Phoenix. In all, the Phoenix had nine players score.
“I was pleasantly surprised that we were able to get some turnovers tonight because our pressure hasn’t been working for us so far this year,” Russell said.
And as for his team delivering in their first “must win” of the season, Russell was happy his team stepped up to the challenge.
“It’s early, but after starting out 0-2, it’s pressure time,” he said. “Last year we started out 0-4 and came back to win the conference. This year we don’t want to have to get off to a start like that. We have a tough schedule coming up, and know that we have to stay close with everyone (in the standings). Tonight’s win was very big for us.”
Oberlin 64, Keystone 49
KEYSTONE (49): Chase Robison 5-0-10, Collin Fitzgerald 4-1-9, Brandon Kuhl 3-3-9, Matt Bastock 3-0-8, Adam Hopkins 2-2-6, CJ Conrad 2-1-5, KJ Williams 1-0-2. Totals 20-7-49.
OBERLIN (64): Marcus Bailey 7-2-16, Jason Moore 5-3-13, Noland Isom 4-4-12, Charles Lewis 3-2-9, DaShaun Horton 2-1-5, Demonte Taborn 2-0-4, Marvin Jackson 1-0-2, Devante Hougland 0-2-2, Kalif Townsel 0-1-1. Totals 24-15-64.
Keystone 7 16 12 14 — 49
Oberlin 12 12 24 16 — 64
Three-point goals: Oberlin1-8 (Lewis), Keystone2-10 (Bastock 2). Field goals: Oberlin 24-69 (35 percent), Keystone 20-45 (44 percent). Free throws: Oberlin 15-17 (88 percent), Keystone 7-14 (50 percent). Rebounds: Oberlin 36, Keystone36. Turnovers: Oberlin 11, Keystone 27.
Junior varsity: Keystone, 43-40.
Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.