Morris, Hoover off to fast start
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Following the loss of leading scorer Charlton Gandee and three other top players, Herbert Hoover seemed to have a tough task on its hands following up last year's winning record.
But the Huskies managed to win seven of their first 10 starts this year with a new combination - shutdown defense and one of the most versatile big men in Class AA.
Hoover flashed that tandem in full force on Tuesday with a 55-47 victory over Scott, the state's No. 3 team, led by 6-foot-6 senior pivot Cody Morris, who turned in 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots.
The Huskies held the Skyhawks to 31.8 percent shooting (20 of 63) and have now limited every opponent but two this season to 47 points or fewer and carry a season defensive average of 42.9 ppg.
Morris, of course, had a lot to do with that because of his presence inside and outside the foul lane. He knocked down 7 of 9 shots, including his only 3-point attempt, and hit four nice pull-up jumpers from the perimeter.
He's done a lot of that this season, averaging team highs of 15.2 points and 11 rebounds. But he's also chipped in other things, like some sharp passes from the high post for easy buckets and even helps bring the ball upfloor against defensive pressure.
"Obviously, we give him the ball in the low post as much as possible,'' said Huskies coach Jeff Gandee, "but we use him in other ways. He's a good passer; he sees the floor very well and is a very, very unselfish player - probably a little too unselfish. He passes up really good shots and creates potential for a turnover.
"Sometimes we use him to bring it up against pressure. It's been a big plus for us. Something that's not typical - we've always had guards to rely upon, but fortunately we have that skill set and it's a big plus.''
It's clear that Morris has worked on his game - and all facets, not just shooting and rebounding.
"You don't want to have just one category all the way up,'' Morris said. "You want to play all-around basketball and help the team out in every way you can.''
Morris also doesn't have a problem taking over Charlton Gandee's role as the lead scorer and the go-to player in the clutch.
"We had Charlton last year, and he could do everything,'' Morris said. "He was the scorer. This year, I've taken on a leadership role, accepted [being] the No. 1 guy and step up every game, and we just play as a team.''
Certainly, the defensive prowess Hoover has shown has helped matters (it held Sissonville to 28 points! in a recent win). Last year, the Huskies allowed more than 47 points to 14 of 23 opponents.
Jeff Gandee thinks Tuesday's win over Scott - its first victory over a state-ranked team this season - will also do wonders for his developing squad's confidence level.
"The big thing we take from this is confidence,'' he said. "We try to tell them going in that we knew it was a great challenge. We try to convince them, 'We can do this; we can beat these guys.' We get them to believe, so now maybe it gives them that little extra security in their minds.
"Now we can play with the best we're going to face, and you can win. You can't measure how valuable that confidence is. It's a big thing for us.''
Skyhawks in a slump
Things couldn't have gone better for Scott to start the season, as it bolted out to an 8-0 record, including five Cardinal Conference wins.
The Skyhawks, in fact, were ranked No. 1 in the initial Class AA state poll of the season. But since then, it's been downhill, and in a hurry.
Scott dropped its next four games by a total of 15 points to Tolsia, Poca, Hoover and Wyoming East - three ranked opponents and a Huskies team that just might crack the ratings sometime this season.
"We talked to the boys,'' said Skyhawks coach Nick Cabell, "and told them we need to do a little soul-searching. They were talking the whole way home on the bus [from Hoover] about what they need to do, to play harder defense - especially in the opening half.
"We haven't been performing typically the last few games, and we have to play through these times. They're young, but that's no excuse, You can't take plays off. You've got to do something to change it.''
Scott bounced back with a victory over Nicholas County on Friday.
The last decade hasn't been kind to Riverside, but that could be changing this season.
The Warriors (6-8) have already captured more wins than they did during three of their last six seasons, and two of their losses this season were competitive against state-ranked Class AAA opponents South Charleston (by six points) and Huntington (seven points).
Second-year coach Dusty Herscher can see the improvement coming.
"Against a team like this, Riverside has usually gotten blown out,'' he said following a 59-52 setback to Huntington, a game the Warriors led at halftime. "In the past, Riverside would have gotten down and laid down and let this team beat them by 25, 30 points. But they're playing harder.''
Riverside hasn't won as many as 10 games in a season since 2005-06 (when it went 10-13) and hasn't posted a winning season since a 16-7 mark in 2002-03.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.