BY J. PATRICK EAKEN | MIRROR SPORTS — Ashland played right into Anthony Wayne’s hands, and the Generals took full advantage, defeating the Arrows 77-63 in the Division I boys basketball sectional opener at Start High School last Friday.
Ashland came out with a full-court press, but it only seemed to help AW.
Only certain teams have tried to use a man-to-man defense against the Generals, and it was even more rare to see full-court pressure.
“It helped a little bit. We executed in the first half. We had just three turnovers, which is a big part of the game,” said AW coach Josh Arthur.
“We knew they were going to come at us, we knew how good their shooters are and they’ve had a great season.”
With the win, Anthony Wayne improved to 16-6 and advanced to the district semifinals, set for Wednesday against Whitmer. Ashland’s season ended at 15-8.
Against the pressure, AW had just four turnovers in the second half, and by game’s end, five Generals had scored in double figures and forced the Arrows into beating themselves with 12 turnovers – six of them steals.
Senior guard Max Denman paced AW with a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds. He also had two steals that led to easy scores.
Denman hitting double figures in rebounds is something Anthony Wayne fans are seeing more and more. Against Ashland, the senior saw it as something his team needed from him.
“In the first half, we were kind of struggling a little bit and then I realized I have to get boards,” he said. “I know that is one of my jobs. Then, in the second half with assists, I started to realize they were double and triple-teaming me, so they let (junior forward) Bryce (Boyer) and (senior forward Max) Bradfield wide open and we were able to figure that out.”
Following Denman in scoring were junior guard Zac Szul with 17 points, Boyer with 14, Bradfield with 11 and junior guard Bobby Miller with 10.
The Arrows’ full-court pressure was not unexpected by the AW coaches and players.
“It was a track meet all game – up and down,” said junior guard Kyle Ray, who contributed with five points.
“We did a good job handling their pressure, finding each other. Bryce had a big game off the bench scoring 14 points. He was the X-factor in this game.”
Denman said as the season wore on, his team has learned it can play at a faster pace than most teams, in part because the Generals have a deep roster with plenty of scorers. AW also likes to pressure at the defensive end.
“I think we started to realize that is our game and this is how we have to play teams,” Denman said. “We like to go up and down, and we forced a lot (of turnovers) again and that’s how we threw them off their game.”
Arthur said once Ashland came out with a press, it had to stick with it because it got down in the third quarter. It also helped that AW prepared in practice for a little defensive trick the Arrows liked to employ.
“Once they got down, we knew they had to come and get us,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we took care of the ball and we executed what we needed to do, and we did.
“One of the big things is people like to reach around as you get by. We coached them hard and we worked at practice to push the ball in front of you so they can’t get to that ball.”
The Arrows were led by junior forward Garrett Denbow, who had 24 points and six rebounds, junior guard Michell Heilman with 13 points and freshman guard Luke Denbow with 12 points and six rebounds.
“Both Denbow kids are really, really good, and I thought we did a great job,” Arthur said. “Our entire coaching staff scouted really, really well. We knew everything they were going to do and I was really proud of the way everybody played.”
A challenge for the Generals was to shut down Ashland’s outside shooting and they held the Arrows to four 3-point goals.
“They are a good shooting team. They had a few 17 3-point games, so we didn’t let them shoot 3-point shots by making them put it on the ground and get to the hole,” Ray said.
“Transition was a big part of their game – they like to get out and find their shooters. They hit a lot of threes, but we limited them and got the win.”
Another area AW excelled at was off the glass, outrebounding the Arrows 38-27.
“We’re definitely a bigger team and people don’t want to match up with us. That is definitely a skill set that we have to our advantage,” Bradfield said.
Both teams had a rough time shooting in the first quarter. The Generals came out of it with a slim 10-8 lead but then scored 27 in a fast-paced second stanza to take a 37-31 lead into halftime.
AW began to wear Ashland down in the third quarter, outscoring the Arrows 22-10 and forcing four turnovers.
The Generals made 29-of-62 shots (42 percent) from the field and 16-of-21 from the foul line. Ashland shot 43 percent from the field and a perfect 13-of-13 from the line.
Senior forward Ben Allen scored two points to round out Anthony Wayne’s scoring, Boyer had five rebounds and Szul and Miller had two steals apiece.
For Ashland, senior guard Nathan Mohney scored seven points, senior forward Klejhan Randleman had four and sophomore guard Eli White added two.