Ipswich Basketball under-16 Boys started their Premier season with a tough trip to Oaklands to face the freshly-promoted Oaklands Wolves.
Oaklands went to work early, making the most of their clear size advantage, pounding the ball into the paint with regularity and drawing a couple of early fouls to Ethan Price and Ahmed Yusoof. A quick timeout from Coach Arron MacDonald saw a change in emphasis from the Suffolk side, who put together a 7-0 run with captain Ben Winter causing the defence havoc: netting one himself, creating a lay-in for Price, and finding Lewis Tebbit – who connected from range. With Yusoof grabbing his second foul and sitting and both sides rotating their benches, Oaklands made a run of their own going 9-2 the rest of the way to take the first quarter 13-11.
Ipswich started the second with a concerted effort to get the ball to Tebbit, who rewarded them with a long two and a lay-up to tie the game at 15. Ipswich’s ball movement began to improve through the middle minutes of the quarter, as Price, Matthew Spurling, Joe Hindley and Tom Payne all benefitted from the creativity of Winter, Troy Huggins and Rhakeem Edwards-Channer. Oaklands hung around, and capitalised as Ipswich failed to connect consistently at the charity stripe, building a seven point lead before Tebbit made one of two free-throws and another field goal, to cut the hosts’ lead to 30-34 at the half.
Oaklands began the second half by going inside again, and extended their lead to six, before Ipswich went through the gears at both ends of the floor. As Tebbit, Spurling and Winter created a flurry of turnovers, resulting in Tebbit again finding the basket from range. A three-point play from Winter saw momentum swing firmly in Ipswich’s favour and run-out to a 44-47 lead, as Oaklands rotated their bench to get bigger MacDonald switched in Hindley and Yusoof for Spurling and Payne for the closing minutes of the quarter, and the defence went up another gear, with Hindley’s length bothering the Oaklands guards and Yusoof over-powering bigger players on the glass. Combined with a trio of blocked shots from Price in the quarter, Ipswich held Oaklands without a field goal in the last three minutes of the quarter, and extended their lead to 45-52.
“It’s a nice feeling to be 1-0, but we don’t want to lose that momentum, we want to keep forging ahead” – Arron MacDonald
Going into the fourth quarter, Oaklands began to extend their pressure defence in a bid to stem the tide, however, Winter and Spurling took good care of the ball as a pair of Tebbit free-throws extended the lead to 10 points. Oaklands again went inside, and bullied their way back into the game with second-chance points in a 7-0 run, as Ipswich uncharacteristically slowed the ball down and turned it over. While Tebbit again steadied the nerves by connecting late in the shot-clock, Payne made the play of the game – putting his body on the line to take a phenomenal charge from one of Wolves’ power players – whose reaction to the play resulted in a double technical foul and his ejection.
Tebbit connected from the line, before Jack Barnes showed just how much this game meant to the Suffolk side – throwing himself to the floor first amongst a pile of players to push the ball ahead to Winter – netting an assist to Price for the dunk, leading to an Oaklands timeout, with Ipswich leading 55-63. Coaches MacDonald and Manning pleaded with the team not to take their foot off the gas down the stretch, and the Suffolk side responded, throttling Oaklands on defence and producing an 11-2 run with Barnes and Huggins getting in on the scoring to seal a 59-74 victory.
Tebbit led the way with 29 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals; supported by Winter (19 points, 7 assists, 3 steals) and a double-double for Price (11 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 steals).
Following the game, Coach MacDonald had this to say; “It’s been a great pre-season, and we’ve been really focused on building the culture in this group. It says everything about that when we say ‘we’re only taking ten guys’ and we still get a full minibus, with players wanting to support their team-mates and help the coaches. That being said, we came into today with our fingers crossed for a performance – we’ve had no pre-season games, which was my choice, but it still leaves you a little nervous about what your team is going to look like when they pull the jerseys on and the balls get rolled-out for real.
“What we saw was a team who look like they’ve bought-in to our culture. On offence, we moved the ball quite well and took – and connected – on open shots, the guys looked like they were enjoying and expressing themselves when they were on the ball, and that’s really important to us. Equally important though was the defensive effort we put in, we weren’t happy at giving up the middle or allowing so many second-chance points in the first half, and I thought that we had stretches out there where our defence throttled them, and we were more disciplined in only allowing one shot per possession. Most pleasingly, we got stronger and stronger as the game wore on.
“Naturally, Lewis will get his fair share of attention – that happens when you score like that, but although he forced one or two up and nabbed himself a technical foul, he was so efficient today, it’s unreal – he shot 10/12 from the free-throw line, and connected from deep every time we needed a score. He’s put a lot of work into his game this summer – as have all the lads – and it’s nice to see him coming right out with this kind of performance. Tom Payne and Jack Barnes made two plays in two minutes today that swung momentum for us, and it’s great to see those guys setting the example of being brave and putting their bodies on the line for the team.
“All of that being said, it’s one game. It’s a nice feeling to be 1-0, but we don’t want to lose that momentum, we want to keep forging ahead – it’s more important to us to see the development of the guys as individuals and as a team than anything else – because if we’re the best team we can be, everything else will take care of itself. So our focus is solely on that this coming week – we want to be better ahead of our four game stretch at home, and I know the lads want the same thing.”
Next up for Ipswich is London United, on Saturday 1st October at 3pm at Copleston.