CANTON — Oberlin coach Kurt Russell acknowledged after Wednesday night’s Division III regional semifinal at the Canton Memorial Fieldhouse that the Phoenix will never be mistaken for a good outside shooting team.
LaBrae knew it, schemed to force the Phoenix to shoot from the perimeter and the Vikings are moving on because of it.
Jason Moore scored 17 points to lead the Phoenix, but LaBrae’s John Richards made him work for every one of them. Moore connected on 8 of 22 shots, many contested and from the perimeter, and the Phoenix shot just 30 percent — 20-of-66 — as a team in their 75-52 loss. When the Phoenix did get to the basket, LaBrae’s 6-foot-7 Peyton Aldridge was waiting to alter shots.
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“That was their focus, to keep us outside,” Moore said. “They knew we were faster than them and they used their strengths against us. They used their size inside; it was hard to get shots inside against them.”
The Phoenix (18-8) had its biggest success late in the second quarter, when LaBrae switched to a 2-3 zone and the Phoenix cut a once-17-point lead to 11 at the break. But when the Vikings (23-3) switched back to man defense, the Phoenix offense often devolved into one-on-one play, which LaBrae snuffed out with solid on-ball defense.
“We weren’t going to go outside the 3-point line to defend them,” said LaBrae coach Chad Kiser, whose squad will play Beachwood, an early 54-50 winner over Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, on Saturday. “Our goal was to pack it in, stop penetration and shoot jump shots, then keep them off the glass. I thought we accomplished all of it.”
The other end was an entirely different story. Aldridge entered averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds, and it was abundantly clear early on why: Not only is Aldridge a very skilled player – both on the outside and the interior — but LaBrae expertly feeds him the ball in his sweet spots: at the high post or the block coming off screens in the widely-used “flex” offense.
Aldridge had 11 points in the first quarter and six in the first half to stake LaBrae to its big early lead. He finished with 28 on 13-of-17 shooting.
“We wanted to take advantage of them switching screens, and our flex did that,” Kiser said. “It’s easy for Peyton to turn and shoot over them, and we wanted to run flex until we got a good shot or a mismatch.”
And when Aldridge wasn’t scoring, he took advantage of the attention Oberlin paid him to find his teammates. Overall, the Vikings shot 60 percent — 30-of-50 — and made it look easy with drives to the basket and corner threes off feeds from Aldridge. The Vikings had 23 assists on those 30 field goals.
“LaBrae executed very well,” Oberlin coach Kurt Russell said. “We didn’t close out very well on their flex offense as well as we had early on, and they just caused us some problems.
“And they made us work on offense. When teams scout us, they will play zone or collapse in the middle because they know we love to penetrate and use our athleticism. It was just an off night for us.”
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.