CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sometimes in life, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. When the first quarter ended Friday night, the Eastern Hancock Royals had only given up one point behind a lengthy and active zone defense.
“The zone defense really isn’t my favorite,” Royals’ coach Aaron Spaulding said after his team’s relatively easy 60-33 win over the visiting Southwestern (Shelby) Spartans. “But these guys really enjoy playing it and seem to excel at it.”
The first four baskets for the Royals came off turnovers caused by the defense clogging passing lanes and frustrating the Spartans from the get go. By the end of the first quarter, the Royals led 19-1, and their margin would never dip below 15 points the rest of the way.
In the first half, the Royals were led offensively by junior guard Brycen Napier who used his inside-outside game to beat the Spartans to the basket and hit two 3-pointers. Napier would finish the game with 20 points.
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“I always hope for a 1-to-1 ratio on 2’s and 3’s,” Spaulding said. “When you get to the basket early in the game, it allows you to get more open looks later on from three.”
In the third quarter, following a relatively quiet first half, Royals junior guard Addison True began to assert himself and routinely muscled to the basket off turnovers. He would finish with 17 points.
The large lead allowed Spaulding to play some players a bit longer than usual, and junior forward Tyler Blattner took advantage, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds.
The Royals are a team with a unique combination, having experienced players who aren’t yet seniors, and Spaulding is starting to see progress from the growing pains the team went through in the previous two seasons.
“Last year we played a lot of sophomores a lot of minutes,” Spaulding said. “My first year coaching here in 1999, we played five freshmen and five sophomores, and four years later we were in the final four, so sometimes it pays off in that way.”
The Royals get their first big chance to test that progress tomorrow night when they host Class 2A No. 2 Indianapolis Howe at 7:30 p.m., a sectional foe of the Royals and defending state runner-up.
“Last year, in games like that we were looking mainly just to compete and play hard,” Spaulding said. “But now with the way we’ve progressed, I’ve told the guys I expect to play to win each game.”