Come basketball playoff time, even in the age of the three-pointer, the teams that win and survive tend to be the ones who are able to establish themselves inside at the decisive moments.
Ben Drake knows that well. Since taking over as Jamestown’s head coach a quarter-century ago, Drake has led his team to the sectionals at Buffalo State 22 times. He’s done a lot of winning, and at halftime of Tuesday’s AA semifinal against Lockport, he knew what his team needed: To pound the ball inside.
“We’ve been kind of an inside-out team all year, take what the defense gives us,” Drake said. “But the second half, we felt we needed to get the ball inside and get to the basket. I was happy with the way we executed that.”
The top-seeded Red Raiders held a 25-23 lead after a ragged first half. Drake made it clear during the break that he wanted the ball to go inside. Jamestown obliged, opening the second half with a 10-2 run — all down low. Sean Paige and Bishop Butts had four points apiece and Trey Drake two in the run.
Lockport kept hanging around, but Jamestown used a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 42-31. Sophomore Jaydian Johnson, who scored a game-high 22 points, capped the run with a lefty layup on the fast break.
Drake, who is headed to North Dakota State to play quarterback next season, had a layup, a three-point rainbow and a nice feed to Paige for a layup on a 14-2 run that expanded the Raiders’ lead to 19, 57-38, with 6:20 left.
“Number 30 (the Lions’ 6-10 Dray Akin) is a large man,” said Trey Drake, the coach’s son. “But when he got in foul trouble, we had some smaller guards guarding us, especially me, and we tried to take advantage as well as we can.”
Drake, the Raiders’ top scorer this season, had 17 points and fellow senior Paige had 14, all but one after the half. Drake and Paige combined for 24 points in the second half, primarily on forays into the low post.
Kyree Jones scored 20 points, 11 in the first quarter, for fifth seed Lockport, which ended the season at 14-8. J’lyn Darrel had 18 points for Lockport. The Lions never quit, cutting the deficit to six, 61-55, with two minutes left in the fourth.
But Paige followed his own missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one to put Jamestown up eight and avoid a crisis. The Red Raiders, now 19-3, shot 48 percent and were 6 of 13 from three-point range.
As Ben Drake said, they can beat you inside and out. But as one of the coaches hollered during a timeout during their third-quarter run, it was “layup city” when they took command of the game.
They’ll surely need to establish themselves inside if they want to capture the AA championship. The Raiders will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Health Sciences and Niagara Falls in the title game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Buff State. It’s familiar territory for Jamestown, and it never gets old
“No, of course not,” Ben Drake said with a smile. “There’s no other place we’d rather be right now, that’s for sure.”
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