Justin Durham thought the game plan to defeat his Laney basketball team last year was too transparent: Hound Rod Hall to the point where he couldn't penetrate and allow the rest of the Wildcats to hoist as many jump shots as they pleased.
This year's team, Durham said, has improved to the extent that it will take much more than a basic plan to deal it a defeat.
"At this point, we're sharing the basketball really well," he said. "Whatever five guys are on the floor, they are all a threat. You can't just guard Rod this year."
Laney proved that Tuesday night, posting a season-high in points in a 97-77 victory over Screven County, the team that ended its season a year ago in the Region 3-AA tournament.
The Wildcats scored the first 10 points and led the entire game even though the Gamecocks limited Hall's penetration with a 1-3-1 defense that welcomed outside shots. Laney controlled nearly every rebound and shot 3-pointers from the corner of the zone with confidence. Hall scored a team-high 25 points, but four other players scored at least nine points.
"We are having fun out there," said Hall, whose transition dunk five minutes before halftime put Laney ahead by double digits for the rest of the game. "We just really wanted to beat them."
Laney seemed to score from every crevice of the Gamecock's zone defense. The Wildcats' execution was at times flawless, like at the end of the first half, which they ended with an alley-oop play. Keith Walker screened for Corinthian Brown, who surprised the defense when he slammed the ball through the hoop.
Brown finished with 22 points, while Walker added 12. Raheem Newton hit three of the Wildcats' six 3-pointers.
"They kept finding (an opening) in the corner of that zone," said Screven County coach Brent Anderson, whose team had its three-game winning streak snapped. "They have five guys that can make that shot. ... They are the best team we have seen. We were scoring, we just couldn't keep up."
Laney (15-1, 3-1) stretched its win streak to 12 games dating back to a December loss to Swainsboro. Durham said he is encouraging his team to pay no attention to its record and instead build toward this year's region tournament at Brewton-Parker College.
Screven County shocked the Wildcats 69-61 last year in that tournament. The Gamecocks (6-9, 2-3) returned three top players from that team, and Cornelius Roberts, Fab Mills and P.J. Reason combined for 61 of their team's points Tuesday, but it wasn't nearly enough for another upset.
"We were a top-five team in the state all year ... needless to say it was very embarrassing," Durham said of last year's loss. " But this was no revenge game. Our goal this year is to just win the next one. No revenge factor at all. We are trying to plateau just in time for that first region tournament game. The only thing that matters is improving. That's our goal, and the guys are starting to get that."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.