BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – It’s much too small of a sampling from which to draw conclusions. But it seems like the Lebanon boys’ basketball team is going to bring the effort and intensity every night.
If the Cedars do that, they’re going to perform fairly consistently on the defensive end. And if the Cedars are consistent in that particular phase, they’re going to win a lot of games.
On Saturday night, Lebanon used a consistent defensive effort to shut down Elco 48-38, and win the championship of its own tip-off tournament. The Cedars played well defensively in both the half court and full court, kept Raider star Colton Lawrence on a short leash and held Elco to a mere two points over the game’s final 3:09.
Jhalil Ortiz, Lebanon’s athletic senior forward, earned the most valuable player trophy for the event. J. Ortiz was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Allen Escoto, Lawrence, fellow Raider Caleb Buchmoyer, Julian Collazo of Lancaster Mennonite and Taurlen Richard of Muhlenberg.
With a 2-0 overall record and a championship in its back pocket, Lebanon High has laid the foundation for a successful campaign. The much-improved Raiders saw their early season mark slip to 1-1.
“It’s important because, even though it’s the second game, it’s a championship game,” said Lebanon head coach Tim Speraw. “It carries a little more weight when it’s a championship game. A win carries a little more weight when it comes in a championship game. We want to win any type of championship game.
“I don’t know where we are as a team right now,” added Speraw. “I think they’re (his players) coming with effort every night. I don’t know if we’ll play any team all season who will out work us. If we can clean some things up, we’ll be fine.”
“I like my team’s effort,” said Elco head coach Brad Conners. “I liked the way we played to the very end. It’s something they’ll hang their hats on. We’ve got good kids and they’ll bounce back. They’ll win more of these games than they’ll lose.
“I really like this team,” Conners continued. “They’re fun to be around. And they are winners.”
The outcome was still very much in doubt with three minutes to play when Buchmoyer stroked a trey to pull Elco to within 42-36 of the lead. But the Cedars responded with a Khalique Washington-to-Ortiz hoop and by jacking up the defensive intensity.
Lebanon’s defensive prowess more than made up for its four-for-12 free throwing shooting down the stretch.
“I think our seniors have really stepped up,” said Speraw. “Jahlil has stepped up with his scoring and rebounding. Noah (Sanders) and Luke (Eisenhour) are more vocal leaders. Even though they’re not showing up in the score book, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. They’re bringing the younger kids along.”
“Listen, they play hard,” said Conners of the Cedars. “They’re fast. They’re athletic. They get up and down. That’s a good team. That’s a good team we were right there with. We knew what we were getting.”
Consider this: Cedar sophomore Khalique Washington accounted for as many points off the bench – 14 – as Lawrence did for Elco. Ortiz tallied 13 points, while Buchmoyer collected a dozen Raider points.
Lebanon finished ten-for-22 at the charity stripe, while Elco only attempted ten free throws.
“The key was definitely to stop him,” said Speraw of Lawrence. “We felt if he didn’t go off, it was going to give us a very good chance to win. Overall, we knew if we could limit him, we’d put ourselves in a good position.
“Obviously everything runs through him,” continued Speraw. “He’s a stud. He can do it all. That was our number one game plan, to limit his good shots. We didn’t want him getting easy shots. We doubled him well and made him give up the ball.”
“Yeah, they did focus on him (Lawrence),” said Conners. “They clogged up the lane. We need to drive. We need to move the ball.
“We need to step up, and Caleb did,” Conners added. “We tried to free Colton up at the top of the lane. We did want to spread Lebanon out. We wanted to make them play defense.”
During the first four minutes of the second half, Lebanon extended a four-point intermission lead to 32-23, on a drive by Escoto. The Cedars did it by holding Elco without a point during the stretch, and by getting three points from Eisenhour and two others from Escoto.
But when Buchmoyer pulled up for a pair and Lawrence converted a steal into a lay-up to start the final stanza, the Raiders were back to within 36-33.
“I don’t think overall we played very well,” said Speraw. “But we played extremely hard. At the right moments, we managed to get baskets. But we’re headed in the right direction.”
“It wasn’t going to be tonight,” said Conners, when it was suggested that the Raiders will need to come up with key plays in crunch time if they are to reach their season goals. “We have to show up to practice on Monday, and practice hard. Next time we’re in one of these we have to find a way to win it. We’ve got to get to the foul line, that’s the bottom line. We’re attacking the rim.
“We turned it over five times more than they did and they out rebounded us,” Conners continued. “Those were two keys on our board.”
After the Cedars had notched the first two baskets of the game, Lawrence tied the score at nine with an inside maneuver, with 3:10 of the opening period remaining. But Lebanon High tallied the final six points of the quarter – four from Washington and a bucket by Shaqwell Ortiz.
Elco held the Cedars without a point for the first five minutes of the second stanza, and during that stretch knotted the score at 15. But on the play of Washington and S. Ortiz, Lebanon ended the half with a 25-21 margin.
“We’re deep at every position,” said Speraw. “Even though we’re not very big, we have kids who can finish inside. Khalique just gave us a huge jump tonight. He opened it up for us a little bit.”
“I expected more points,” said Conners. “I thought they (the Cedars) were really good defensively tonight. They held us to 38, and we’re not exactly walking the ball up the floor. I’m sure Colton’s number was on their (the Cedars’) board.”