NAPLES—Patriot John Martin put up 23 points in a rousing season-opener at Lake Region on Friday night, Dec. 8. G-NG thoroughly dominated the first two quarters – then just as thoroughly stumbled in the third before recovering beautifully in the fourth and cruising to victory, 53-42.
“They made him work,” G-NG head coach Ryan Deschenes said of Martin. “They made him work to get the ball, we had to run a lot of screens, we had to get some other guys to handle it a bit. But he’s a three-year starter now, he’s one of the best players in this Conference, and he showed it tonight. Sometimes, really good players step up in these situations and he did.”
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Martin said. “But, obviously, Lake Region has really good defenders. So we had to share the ball, bringing it up the court, because sometimes their pressure was really tough – they’d double-team.”
“We played defense well enough to win,” Lake Region head coach John Mayo said, asked if his boys were effective enough against Martin in particular. “Giving up only 53, and some of them in transition because we’re pressing, or free-throws at the end, I think is good enough to win any game. You’ve got to put up more than 42.”
It took both teams a few minutes to shake off the start-of-winter cobwebs. The game’s first four points all came from Laker Ethan Chadwick, and they all came from the line; not until midway through the opening quarter did anyone lay down an actual bucket – fittingly, it was Martin who finally kicked off the real action, dashing along the baseline and finger-rolling home a graceful lay-up.
Patriot Hunter Colby, an imposing 6-foot-5 post player, next evened the tally at 4-4 with a two from underneath; the squads were off and running. Laker Tristen Chaine added a two and Martin a pretty three to leave G-NG on top 7-6 at the end of the first.
The Patriots heated up in the second, outscoring Lake Region 17-5: Martin added a two, two frees and a three, while teammates Connor Myatt and Josiah Rottari each added a three and Zach Brady knocked down a two and two frees. Mark Mayo, the Lakers’ big man inside, contributed the majority of their offense, dropping in a pair of twos. 24-11 at the break.
“We were just playing as a team,” Martin said, asked what allowed the Patriots to perform so well through the first half. “We felt really good. We came into it just moving the ball around, and getting everyone open shots.”
A good portion of G-NG’s scoring in the second came off turnovers they forced on defense; several times, the Lakers drove forward only to find themselves stripped of possession as they tried to penetrate the paint.
Turns out, that was exactly the Patriots’ strategy.
“The biggest things is keeping it out of the paint,” Deschenes said. “[Lake Region] is quick on the dribble, so we needed to keep them out of the paint, and make sure we were rotating well on Mark Mayo. But we’re quick on the perimeter, we’ve got rim protection, we’ve got some length to deny a little bit. We have the opportunity to be a really good defensive team – we’ve just got to be consistent. We showed signs of that tonight, and we also showed signs that we’ve got to fix.”
When the teams returned to the court to begin the third, the Patriots returned perhaps a bit too confident that the outcome was already settled – that the W already belonged to them. It didn’t, as Lake Region quickly reminded them, owning that quarter just as completely as G-NG had owned the previous quarter.
“I think the guys felt a little too good,” Deschenes said, asked if his boys got complacent following such a dominant first half. “Like, ‘We’re going to be okay; they’re going to struggle to score against us.’”
“The second half kind of slowed down,” Martin. “I think were coming in a little hot-headed, and kind of just expecting that they would hand it to us. But that’s obviously not what happened; they came out with power, and they took the lead.”
True Meyers began the Lakers’ comeback push with a two; Chaine then notched a two, Mayo a free, Paul Walker a three and Chaine another two, shuttling Lake Region within a single shot at 24-21. Martin broke the Lakers’ run with a pair from the line, but the home team wasn’t about to relent, and Dawson Smith answered with a three.
“We stopped defending the way we needed to,” Deschenes said, asked about his boys’ surprising letdown in the third. “We gave them some breathing room, they got some good looks. But the biggest thing was—they turned up their pressure and we just melted a little bit. And, we stopped executing offensively. We were standing, we were keeping the ball on one side—they were able to defend a little harder because we were keeping the ball on one side…They got us out of rhythm defensively.”
“I told them it was one possession at a time,” Coach Mayo said of his halftime speech in the locker room. “You can’t get it all at once. And you’ve got to share it – trust who’s with you. We’ve got to run our offense, swing the basketball and make them move, so we can attack from where we are and get open guys. Because people aren’t getting open.”
Lake Region kept pace with G-NG – or, perhaps it was the other way around – through the remainder of the third. Just at the buzzer, though, Laker Robert Crockett dumped in a two from underneath. The Patriots remained out front, 32-30, but Lake Region had grabbed the momentum and fired up the crowd.
The first points of the fourth belonged to Meyers – and they were certainly huge points: Meyers drained a lead-stealing three; now the Lakers looked nigh-unstoppable.
But Martin was having none of that. He carried G-NG’s next possession up court and promptly executed the slickest play of the night so far, sitting his Lakers defender down with an aggressive pump-fake from beyond the arc, then taking to the air – only to dish sharply to Rottari, waiting along the baseline. Rottari lofted up a perfect down-towner, thus putting the Patriots on top once more, 35-33.
“We do a lot of drive-and-kicks in practice, so it felt normal,” Martin said. ”When I kicked to Josiah, I knew it was going in.”
G-NG retained the advantage for the rest of the contest, and even logged their single best quarter in the fourth – an impressive recovery after that seriously underwhelming third. Five different Patriots contributed to the team’s 21-point take in those last eight minutes: Rottari added the aforementioned three, and two besides; Brady a pair of twos; Martin a two and four frees; Zach Pomerleau a two and two frees; and Colby two frees.
“We settled down, had to take that timeout to refocus,” Deschenes said of the Patriots’ reclaiming the momentum in the fourth-quarter. “We really worked offense, and getting the ball on both sides. Hunter Colby got going, got a few good looks inside, and Josiah hit that big shot that got us a lead.”
For Martin, G-NG’s retaking the momentum in the waning eight minutes was also a matter of regaining their calm. “We try to stay composed,” he said. “We’re trying to keep a level-head, going into the game.”
Lake Region, meanwhile, put up a respectable 12 in the same stretch, thanks to Chaine, Meyers, Chadwick, Crockett and Tyler Breton. 12, however, wouldn’t be enough. 53-42 the final.
“We rushed things in the first half, offensively,” Coach Mayo said. “We played defensively pretty well in that first half, but offensively we rushed shots, didn’t share the basketball…forced [things] from a weird angle. Like in the fourth quarter; we didn’t share it, and panicked. In that third quarter, when we made a run, we defended well, felt good about it, got in a flow, found open guys, shared it with our teammates.”
Critically, G-NG looked impressive on foul shots all evening. Martin himself went 9/9 from the line, and the team overall was 16/18. (Myatt and Colby each missed one.)
Coach Mayo observed just how much a game-changer a better performance at the line might’ve been for his own squad: “Free-throws, we’re in the ball-game if we make half of what we missed,” he said. “We missed 14; make seven of those, it’s a different story. It’s not going to be a blow-out at the end.”
Coach Mayo had positive words for his entire team. “They all have moments where they played well, everybody that stepped on the floor. Defensively, they had all good moments; offensively, at times, we struggled, and at times, Drew would make a good play, or Tristen, or Mark, or Ethan or Tyler Breton. Tyler was probably the most under-control of all of them.”
Deschenes also praised his whole lineup. “Everyone had moments,” he said. “We played nine guys tonight; we’re deep, and we’re missing a rotation player, who’s sick. Everybody stepped up tonight. Zach Pomerleau didn’t play last year; he had a big second half on both sides of the ball. Oliver (Grant) helped out, Josiah (Rottari) made some big shots. It was a good team win. Zach Brady got going a little bit on both sides in the fourth quarter.”
Martin seconded his coach’s assessment: “I think we all played well,” he said. “We stayed composed and finished our shots.”
“It’s kind of that next-man-up philosophy,” Deschenes said. “We know we have that centerpiece in John, that’s our catalyst, but we have so many good players around him that have the ability to step up, any night.”
Deschenes described Martin’s progress and his skillset. “He got going in transition; that’s where he made his big improvement from last year. He can attack downhill much better. He gets someone on his hip and he can go, and he’s drawing so many guys and he’s such a good finisher down at the rim. That’s really expanded his game, and that’s going to open things up for him and for us as the season goes along.”
The victory launched G-NG’s season in style; they moved to 1-0. The Patriots followed up with a home bout vs. York on Wednesday the 13th. They host Freeport on Friday the 15th.
Lake Region begins the winter on a tiny slide, 0-1. The Lakers showed their grit, though, and their potential; they’ll need both as they travel to Wells on Friday night.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
G-NG’s Zach Brady, looking for two, gets air over Laker Mark Mayo.
John Martin lofts up an inside jumper.
Tyler Breton pushes up-court for the Lakers.
Laker True Meyers makes for the basket.
John Martin carries on the attack for G-NG, guarded closely by Laker Tristen Chaine.