When a coach cuts a practice session short the day before a game, it usually means one of two things: First, their team is just going through the motions and may not be mentally ready for the game. Second, maybe, the squad is on point and the coach does not want the players to lose that edge.
Thursday afternoon, in practice for the following evening’s key Region 4-AAA home game with Chester, Camden boys basketball coach Ron McKie halted the Bulldogs’ practice for safety reasons. It was not due to concerns over the flu epidemic which forced McKie and assistant coach Ron Sims to miss two games. Rather, the Dogs were so hyped up in practice that their coach curtailed things before they got out of hand.
“Practice was intense. They wanted to kill each other,” McKie said. “I had to blow the whistle and stop it because I thought somebody was going to get hurt. That’s how hard they were going at each other yesterday.”
One night later, Camden’s practice session spilled over onto the Michael G. Culp Court as the Dogs ran Chester out of the gym to the tune of a 79-34 blowout which gave the hosts the top spot in 4-AAA with two games left to play in the regular season.
The 45-point romp gave McKie and company a 5-1 conference mark while avenging a loss in Chester earlier this season. The visiting Cyclones fell to 5-2 in league play.
In a contest which was decided shortly after the get-go, the hosts led comfortably at each break. Camden cruised to a 20-6 lead after one quarter, extended that to 37-12 at halftime and carried a 59-22 advantage into the final stanza of play.
Senior guard Cam Jefferson led four Dogs who scored in double figures with 20 points. His backcourt partner and classmate, Devin Martin, was next with 17. Junior guard Bryce Jeffcoat and senior forward Donovan Belton were next with 13 and 12 points, respectively, for the winners whose 79 points were a season-best as was the final 45-point spread.
Camden’s play was in stark contrast to how the Dogs finished in their first game with the Cyclones in Chester. On that night, the hosts simply took the physical battle to Camden in coming away with a come from behind, 68-59, victory.
Following Thursday’s practice, Mc-Kie was hoping that energy would carry over to Friday’s pairing inside the Dog Pound.
“Up there, they took control of the game in the fourth quarter when they manhandled us and we backed down,” McKie said of that first meeting. “As a coach, you don’t want to see your team back down. Tonight, we bowed up and went to-to-toe with them. I told them when we do that, whether we’re making shots or missing shots, we will still be in the game.
“I told them that if we lose to a team like Chester it will be because they were more men than you; they are more physical than you. I hate losing to a team that just plays harder and gets after it more than we do. If we’re going to lose, let it because they shoot the lights out and we go cold.”
There was no chance of that happening on Friday night as Camden closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run which started with 3-point bombs from Martin and Jefferson. Jeffcoat then completed a 2-on-1 break with a layin before Belton put back his own missed shot to give the Dogs a 20-6 lead.
McKie was forced to go to his bench early as senior forward Jericho Murphy, one of the team’s leading rebounders, was tagged with his second personal foul less than two minutes into the contest. Thanks to the play of Jalen Dubose, the Dogs never skipped a beat on either end of the floor in what his coach called a breakout game for the 6-foot-2 junior.
“Jalen Dubose came to play tonight. He gave us a big lift off the bench,” McKie said. “He played hard; he bodied up their big guy, got rebounds for us and stuffed the lane. I’ve been waiting on that. I told Jalen that this is what I’ve been waiting for. He just played a great game.”
The Cyclones got as close as they would get with a 15-foot jumper from Keith Mobley which opened the second quarter. Camden countered by embarking on a 15-2 rally which was tipped off by a conventional 3-point play from Malik Green and four straight points from Jefferson, who picked up a loose ball under the basket and laid it in before his putback at the three minute mark of the quarter upped the lead to 29-8.
When Chester center Leon Goldsborough picked up his third personal foul in the first half and was lifted from the lineup, it opened the lane for Camden to penetrate and go hard to both the basket and the glass.
“When (Goldsborough) got that third playing, we’re attacking. When they took him out, it kind of took the life out of them. They didn’t have that big body inside that hurt us that first game.”
Camden closed the first 16 minutes by knocking down six straight free throws which were wrapped around a Jefferson steal and layin as the hosts carried a 25-point advantage into the locker room at intermission.
What McKie told his team during the break was to not be satisfied with their first half performance and slam the door on the Cyclones.
“Sometimes in high school,” he said, “it’s hard to play with a big lead. You think, ‘What’s a bad pass going to do?’ The next thing you know, you’re up by 20 (points), then it’s 16, then it’s 12. The lead shrinks real fast and then, they have all the momentum.
“I told them no letdowns and make them earn every point they get like they did in the first half and that (Chester) was going to make a run and we had to weather the storm. I wasn’t going to use time outs and just don’t get rattled and we didn’t.”
The storm McKie had forecast turned into nothing but a passing shower as Chester used a 6-0 spree to close the gap to 41-20 with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter. Things dried up quickly for the guests after that.
Taking time off the clock, Camden worked the ball around before Jeffcoat dropped home a 3-ball from the top right of the arc which triggered an 18-2 closing run to the third. Martin contributed a pair of treys to the rally --- of which the Dogs had nine --- as Camden had this one well in hand in heading to the final stanza with a 59-22 lead. That advantage grew to 70-24 as Jefferson struck for a pair of 3-point jumpers and then added a traditional 3-point play during an 11-0 stretch.
While the final point differential caught him off guard, McKie said he was happy to see the carryover affect from the Dogs’ Thursday practice.
“I told them, ‘You want to beat each other so bad in practice. Why can’t you bring that intensity that you want to beat the other team so bad? Tonight, they did,” he said.
Now, McKie said, he wants Friday’s game to be a stepping stone for what he and the Bulldogs hope will be a long slate of February contests.
The Camden team which McKie saw on Friday was a squad, which he thought he would have in the preseason, come into full bloom in the home stretch of a regular season which ends with a Thursday home game with Columbia High.
“I thought this would have happened earlier,” McKie said of his team’s seemingly having put things together, “but with Donovan (Belton) missing seven games due to an injury, we just didn’t gel. I think, right now, we’re kind of hitting our stride.
“I told our guys this is the best time to be hitting your stride, in the second half of the region season and going into the playoffs. I think their legs are rested and that, mentally and physically, we’re peaking.”
Chester (34): Kenard Young 2 1-2 5, Leon Goldsborough 3 2-4 8, Niquavien Coleman 2 0-0 4, Keith Mobley 3 0-2 6, T.J. Hollis 1 0-0 2, Phaleek Brown 1 0-0 2, Dorrin Bagley 1 0-0 2, Jeremy Stroud 2 0-0 5. Totals: 15 3-8 34
Camden (79): Bryce Jeffcoat 4 2-2 13, Donovan Belton 4 4-5 12, Devin Martin 6 2-2 17, Cam Jefferson 8 1-1 20, Malik Green 2 1-1 5, Landon Goodwin 0 1-2 1, Jalen Dubose 0 2-2 2, Nyicere Greene 0 3-5 3, Trajon Pate 0 2-2 2, Jericho Murphy 1 0-1 2, Demonte Green 1 0-0 2. Totals: 26 18-23 79
Score by quarters: First: Camden, 20-6; Halftime: Camden, 37-12; Third: Camden, 59-22; Three-point goals: Chester 1 (Stroud), Camden 9 (Jeffcoat 2, Jefferson 3, Martin 3)