MECCA - The Hall of Fame induction at Maplewood High School was spoiled Friday night by physical play and solid 3-point shooting from John F. Kennedy, as the Eagles defeated the Rockets, 72-66.
The discrepancy in first-half shooting is what pushed Kennedy to an eight-point halftime lead. The Eagles shot 8 of 11 in the first quarter, knocking down all five 3-point attempts and ended the first half with a combined 14 of 24 from the field and 7 of 9 from beyond the arc. Maplewood's shooters, on the other hand, struggled in the opening half. They shot a combined 10 of 30 from the field and connected on only four of their 11 3-point attempts.
The Eagles grew their lead to as many as 12 early in the second half, but the Rockets fought back. Down five with 40 seconds left in the game, Maplewood's leading scorer Kevin Jones, who finished with 25 points, drained a 25-footer to bring the Rockets within two. That was as close as the Rockets got to a comeback.
Overall, the physicality of the game picked up in the second half, which was good news for the Eagles' big man Zachary Usher. The junior scored 12 of his team-leading 18 points in the second half. He also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. The most crucial of those points came with 19 seconds left in the game. The Eagles had a 69-66 lead when Usher knocked down his first of two free throws, essentially sealing the deal for Kennedy.
"Zach's been a a double-double guy the last seven games for us," Eagles coach Shawn Pompelia said. "He's been showing up and it's nice tonight where the guards showed up as well. To be a complete team we can't just have Zach carrying us. We've got to have guards play, and I applaud our guards tonight for how hard they worked and knocking their shots down."
Usher was pleased with the way his team came through.
"Overall, it was a good game," Usher said. "They made some tough shots at the end but we pulled through as a team. We played well. We defended them at the end, got some steals, and finished the game off. It was a battle of wills at the end, but we pulled through."
The game was closer than the Eagles would have liked, which had a lot to do with the their poor free-throw shooting down the stretch. The increased second-half physicality forced both teams to the line. The Rockets capitalized going 11 of 16 from the line as Kennedy struggled, connecting on only four of its 14 attempts.
"I thought it got extremely physical for both sides," Pompelia said. "I thought it could have been sured up a lot better than what it was, but that's how they were allowing us to play. You have to adapt to it. I thought they did a heck of a lot better job than we did at the foul line."
With Maplewood coach Nate Kish absent due to illness, assistant coach Brian Phillips took over the Rockets' coaching duties for the night, and agreed with Pompelia about the style of game.
"It definitely got very physical," Phillips said. "I'm not sure if that was an advantage to either team. Obviously they're a little bigger than us, so it might have favored them slightly. But overall I don't think either coach was too happy with how physical it got."
Maplewood hopes to have its coach back tonight in a league game against Chalker. Tipoff is 7:30 p.m.
Kennedy, now 2-5 on the year, is going to continue to work toward improving every day, acccoridng to Pompelia.
"We've got a lot of things to work on," Pompelia said. "I told them after the game, 'What is their personal commitment to this team, to get better everyday?' That's really what we're trying to do day in and day out - get better every day. I thought Maplewood played an outstanding game and I give them a lot of credit tonight."