Highlands uses defense to key victory over Knoch
Highlands junior forward Lavontae Martin has two pet mini alligators that live in his house.
“The one I just got tried to bite me the other day,” Martin said.
Martin and his teammates continue to chomp on Section 1-AAA teams.
Highlands used several impacting zone defenses and closed its jaws around Knoch’s leading scorer Tuesday night to come away with a 57-44 victory over the visiting Knights.
Highlands’ fifth straight win moved the Golden Rams (8-8, 5-4) into a tie with Knoch (8-7, 5-4) for third place.
Highlands has played its share of man-to-man defense this season but changed the game plan and packed the paint against the Knights. The result was a frustrating, four-point night for Knoch senior Matt Zanella, who came in averaging 15 points.
A 2-1-2 zone proved effective.
“We have each other’s backs and work well together,” said Martin, who scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “We stacked up the zone so (Zanella) couldn’t touch the ball.”
Highlands allowed 63 points a game during its 0-6 start but is allowing 48 a game since. Knoch was limited to three field goals and 12 points in the first half.
Senior guard Kaison Branch led the Golden Rams with 16 points. Sophomore Mitch Dezort added 13.
“It’s easier for us to rotate in the zone,” Dezort said. “We have been playing well lately, sharing the ball more and cutting down on our turnovers.”
P.J. Gourley led the Knights with 12 points, and Aiden Albert had 10.
The Knights played without sophomore point guard Austin Hannes (11 ppg), who likely is done for the season with a knee injury.
“You could give me a million dollars, and I couldn’t tell you what happened,” Knoch coach Ron McNabb said. “I think we let our offense get in the way of our defense. They did a nice job on (Zanella), moving two forwards over like Pitt did (Monday) against (Duke’s Jahlil) Okafor.”
Highlands led 24-12 at halftime and stretched the margin 15 after three quarters thanks to a 13-5 run to close the third.
Martin converted a 3-point play early in the fourth, and sophomore forward Brayden Thimons followed his own miss to push the advantage to 45-28 with four minutes to go.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.