DARLINGTON – Darlington had not faced a 1-3-1 zone defense all season, but with that being Cameron’s bread-and-butter the Redbirds worked all week on beating that defense.
The Redbirds’ hard work paid off with a 63-52 victory over the Comets in a WIAA Division 4 state semifinal boys’ basketball game played on Thursday, March 16, at the Kohl Center.
“That’s the first 1-3-1 we’ve seen all season. We haven’t run a single possession against it. Because of the way we pass the ball and attack zones, not a lot of teams have played us in zones,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena.
Senior guard Ryan Glendenning scored 11 straight points after the #2-ranked Redbirds (27-0 overall) fell behind just six seconds into the game to kick off an early 16-0 run, and the ‘Birds never looked back.
“We got off to a hot start. That was the key. We knocked down some shots and were able to build a little bit of a lead and we didn’t relinquish that as the game went on,” added Uppena.
Cameron’s junior guard Gunner Wilder knocked down a layup just six seconds into the game to give the Comets (23-4) their only lead of the night. The defending Division 4 state runner-ups would not score again for nearly nine and a half minutes.
A 3-pointer by Glendenning at the 16:28 mark of the opening half put Darlington ahead to stay at 3-2, and the senior added a layup, another 3-pointer, a free throw and a jumper to extend the Redbirds’ lead to 11-2 with 10:49 remaining in the half.
“(Ryan) got us kick-started. We haven’t always started off fast, so it was nice to do that,” Uppena admitted.
Sophomore Stryker Fitzsimons came off the bench and kept the Redbirds’ run burying a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 16-2 with 8:45 to play in the half.
Wilder finally broke through for another layup a short time later to end the drought and start a 7-0 streak by the Comets that trimmed the gap to 16-9, however the ‘Birds kept attacking the Cameron zone and pushed the lead back to 13 by the intermission.
Senior guard Will Schwartz scored six consecutive points to get the Darlington lead back to double digits. Senior guard Trevor Johnson sank a pair of treys, while Schwartz hit a 3 and Glendenning added a basket as the ‘Birds closed the half on a 13-7 run to open up a 35-22 advantage.
“They made a lot of shots,” said Cameron head coach Troy La Vallie. “We were a step slow tonight. We weren’t able to control them on the offensive end. (On defense), they had tremendous ball pressure. They were probably the most athletic team we faced all year.”
The Comets were allowing just an average of 35.4 points per game all season with their vaunted 1-3-1 zone.
Cameron cut the Redbirds’ lead to 37-31 with 10:53 on a pair of Wilder free throws, but Schwartz fired right back with a 3-pointer to get the lead back to nine and the Comets never got closer than seven the rest of the game.
Darlington went 11-for-12 from the foul line over the final two minutes and 39 seconds to pull away from the Comets for their school record 27th victory of the season.
“Our kids stepped up and made free throws and took care of the ball at the end. That’s what it takes to win tight games,” said Uppena.
T. Johnson went 5-for-6 from the line on his way to a game-high 20 points, while Glendenning went 4-for-4 at the stripe to finish with 17 points and three assists.
Schwartz added 14 points with five rebounds and two assists, and senior forward Hunter Johnson chipped in with seven points and led the team with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals.
“We worked all week on giving them different looks with our offense. We were moving the ball very well,” said Schwartz.
Cameron’s distinct height advantage– they had seven players listed at 6’2” or taller to just two players for Darlington– didn’t come into play as the Redbirds used their strength and speed to make up for their lack of size.
“We’ve been undersized all year. We have worked a lot on it. As undersized as we are, our kids are strong and they are not afraid to be physical. That’s a key to good post play,” Uppena said.
Martinez registered a double-double for the Comets with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Wilder finished with 13 points.
WIAA D4 STATE SEMIFINAL
Cameron…………… 22 30 – 52
Darlington…………. 35 28 – 63
Cameron – Wilder 13, Martinez 18, Davison 1, Bailey 8, Putnam 7, Murray 1, Koenecke 4. Totals – 17 16-25 52.
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 7, Will Schwartz 14, Ryan Glendenning 17, Trevor Johnson 20, Stryker Fitzsimons 5. Totals – 19 17-22 63.
3-point goals– C 2 (Bailey 1, Putnam 1), D 8 (Schwartz 2, Glendenning 2, T. Johnson 3, Fitzsimons 1). Total fouls– C 21, D 19. Fouled out– C: Wilder.