Great Crossing's third consecutive boys' basketball season opener against West Jessamine was more than a charm. It was a prolific payback.
Fueled by its fabulous freshman class and steered by two heart-and-soul seniors, GC avenged prior defeats of 20 and 23 points with a convincing 67-50 win Tuesday in front of a loud, appreciative home crowd.
The Warhawks can complement their precocious talent with enough experience to understand the importance of victory off the jump. In 2019-20, it took them seven games to dig out and nudge above the .500 mark, Last winter, they never shattered that ceiling.
“Year one we should have won the second game of the season and should have won the third game of the season, and I think if we'd won the first game we would have won all three,” Great Crossing coach Steve Page. “It's one of those things where if you lose, it starts spiraling in the wrong direction, and now if you win you hope it goes the right way.”
GC's trio of ninth-grade starters was sensational.
Junius Burrell poured in a game-high 21 points. Vince (Tre) Dawson had 16 on 7-for-12 shooting to go along with four rebounds and four assists.
Malachi Moreno, the 6-foot-10 center who bagged the Warhawks' single-game scoring record as an eighth-grader, now owns the rebound mark after combining 12 points with 14 boards. His scoring output, as is likely to become the custom, included multiple dunks.
“I couldn't be more pleased. We played hard from start to finish, and that was the key,” Page said. “Of course like everybody does after the first game, we've got a lot of stuff to clean up. But the good part is we don't have to clean up our effort.”
Brett Bush and Daniel Waters each scored 16 points to lead East Jessamine, combining for six of the Colts' nine 3-pointers
Great Crossing held East Jessamine's other three starters to a combined 3-for-18 night, including Dawson's shutdown of Drew Marshall (one point, nine rebounds, four turnovers).
“In the scrimmage I went to see them play, (Marshall) had 28 or 30, and in the second I watched on film he probably had 20-plus, and he had one tonight. So we did a phenomenal job on him,” Page said “Waters had 14 at halftime, so we emphasized getting out on him and getting back, and we held him to two in the second half. As good as we were in some spots offensively, our defense was what really led it.”
It wasn't wire-to-wire control, but GC rode out all four ties and four lead changes early before extending its 16-14 advantage to 34-26 at the half.
“We got out 4-0 and got a steal, and Tre tried to go for a dunk that he missed, which I got on him a little bit and said that early in the game, let's just take the two points,” Page said. “But at the same time it's a kid trying to make a play and get the crowd excited.
“I’ve challenged Tre to be more aggressive offensively, not to stand around so much, and early on he grabbed a big offensive rebound and got the putback. He was 7-for-11 for two. We threw it in there to him a couple times in the second half on the post, and he produced.”
Burrell was 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half. Tye Schureman and Tyquan Stakelin each nailed another to help GC stretch the lead.
Nine assists on 13 made field goals were a welcome sign for the Warhawks.
“On three consecutive possessions we made one extra pass, reversed the ball and got an open look at a three,” Page said. “That kind of pushed our lead from two to 10, and then second half it got progressively bigger to where we were up 20 right up until the end.”
The team's leading scorer last year before reclassifying for a repeat freshman season, Burrell looks to be a more consistent force with a year under his belt.
“He shoots the ball so well. He can get to the rim. We've been working with him a lot being more patient coming off a ball screen. For the most part he did that tonight,” Page said. “With Malachi rolling, they've got to respect that, and it opens up shots for him.”
Carson Walls (10 points, seven rebounds, three steals) and Schureman (three points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals) provided the glue a growing team needs.
“I added a Hard Hat Award recently, and we handed it out to Carson tonight. He took a charge, led us in deflections, and 75 percent of his deflections led to baskets,” Page said. “For the past two or three weeks, you could just tell. He's been getting extra work in, focusing in every day in practice, being a great leader. I knew he was locked in and tonight was going to make sure his teammates were locked in with him.
“And Tye was right there with him. He didn't score a lot of points, but he played well. He's progressed to where when his shot doesn't go in, that's not all he's about.”
GC held West Jessamine to nine points in the third quarter, and the Colts' field goal percentage dipped from 34.8 percent in the first half to 32.7 percent overall.
Sixteen Colt turnovers on the night and a plus-13 advantage on the glass for the Warhawks after intermission only complicated matters.
“I told them (under 40), so if we can hold a team to 32 percent, I'm happy,” Page said. “We knew they would shoot a lot of threes, I scouted them once and watched them on film a second time, and they shot 44 threes and made 20 in the two games. They made a couple of threes that instead of us getting the lead to 25, kept it in the 15 range for a while. Then we kind of adjusted our ball screen coverage on the last couple of possessions.”
South Oldham, one of the favorites from the Eighth Region, comes to town for a 7:30 p.m. Thursday tip.
“Thursday's probably going to be more of a challenge than we had tonight, and West Jessamine's going to be a heck of a team,” Page said. “But South Oldham is going to start five seniors. Their leading two scorers have already made a decision to play somewhere on scholarship. The good part is it's their opening night, and we've already gotten through ours. Our crowd was great, and the kids fed off that energy.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.