Early in the fourth quarter of North Side’s varsity boys basketball game at Culver Military Academy Tuesday, the host Eagles were riding a wave of offense that had lifted them to within striking distance (40-38) of the Legends, who minutes earlier had been dominating 34-20.
The Culver student body was jumping up and down on the wooden bleachers and North Side had only a handful of supporters that had made the 75-mile trek through tornado-like weather to show their support. But the Legends did have their defense. That is something that – though it isn’t always demonstrated – always has the ability to be tapped into.
“I thought in the third quarter, our defense wasn’t awful,” North Side coach Shabaz Khaliq explained, “on the first shot. It was the second shot. They got a lot of offensive rebounds that gave them extra opportunities to score.”
North Side (14-1) got back to dominating – at both ends of the court – and outscored the Class 3A No. 4-ranked Eagles 22-10 over the final six-plus minutes to prevail easily 62-48. It was the first loss of the season in seven games for Culver.
“In the fourth quarter, we did a much better job of being physical and limiting them to one shot,” Khaliq said.
A lot of attention will be paid this season to the Legends due to frontcourt stars Jaylen Butz and Keion Brooks Jr., and with very good reason. However, for the Legends to truly be a special team, Khaliq will need his entire roster, particularly on the perimeter, playing up to its potential defensively.
“Whoever is on that perimeter, with the four or five guys that we play on the perimeter,” Khaliq said, “we want them to be pressuring the basketball and we want to preach gap defense so that if they happen to get beat, the defensive rotations will be there.”
The 4A No. 4-ranked Legends mixed up their pressure defenses throughout the game Tuesday. Sometimes guys like Elijah Holmes, Davontae Kinnie, Brandon Johnson, and Juan Quarles picked up the Eagle guards at the 3-point line; sometimes it was mid-court, while other times it was on the inbound pass 84 feet from the Culver basket.
“We definitely want to continue to put pressure on the ball,” Khaliq said, “with active hands without fouling.”
The North Side guards have a defensive luxury that perhaps no team in the entire state enjoys in the shot-blocking duo of Butz (6-foot-11) and Brooks (6-foot-8). However, Khaliq wants those two to be defensive saviors only as a last resort, not relied upon regularly.
“We don’t want our guards to get beat,” Khaliq said. “Our philosophy is not ‘Take them to Jaylen or take them to Keion.’ Our philosophy is more ‘those guys will be there as a safety net for you.’ We want (our guards) to continue to pressure the ball without getting beat, but if they do get beat, we don’t want them to have a silly foul or a reaching foul.”
North Side not only answered the Culver threat in the final quarter, it did so repeatedly throughout the game.
An Eagle 3-pointer early in the second quarter pulled them to within 16-13, but the Legends rattled off eight straight points as part of a 16-4 run and led 34-20 at the intermission.
“Our guys got the ball to where it needed to go,” Khaliq said. “They realized ‘Hey, we’re getting shots, we’re just not finishing.’ So it was going to come and they stuck with the plan and did the things that we needed to do and played off of Jaylen. And they got stops.”
Brooks led the Legends with 22 points, while Butz fought through multiple double teams and added 16.
The Legends will return to Summit Athletic Conference play Friday at 8 p.m. when they host Northrop.