LOCKING DOWN: Seahawks’ defense peaks ahead of playoffs

Published 2:04 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS WORKING BOTH ENDS: Shondrea Roland backs down an East Carteret defender on the baseline. His presence down low has been just as valuable on defense as it has been on offense.

WORKING BOTH ENDS: Shondrea Roland backs down an East Carteret defender on the baseline. His presence down low has been just as valuable on defense as it has been on offense.

CHOCOWINITY — Southside is peaking at the right time of the season. The Seahawks played some of their best basketball yet at the end of the regular season and in their two games in the 1-A Coastal Plains Conference tournament.

It’s been a combination of factors. Tamazja Dixon has been aggressive driving to the basket, which has mostly yielded layups or drawing fouls. Shondrea Roland’s presence in the paint on both ends of the court rounds out a formidable forward corps that was already strong thanks to Donshae Tatum. Pat Coffey and Johnny Sullivan are two players that continue to perform at a consistent level, too.

Among all of that, it may be Southside’s defense that has made the greatest strides this season.

Look no further than the team’s first two outings against East Carteret compared to the conference tournament meeting. The reigning state champion Mariners scored 86 and 77, respectively, in those first meetings.

The Mariners are averaging over 76 points a game. Southside’s defense didn’t give them much breathing room on Wednesday. East Carteret managed to score just 59, which was just barely enough to earn the win and move on in the tournament.

“We tried to fight through screens, especially when (leading scorer Trevor) Willis was in there,” Southside coach Sean White said after Wednesday’s game. “The other thing was what we’ve practiced. When you’re playing tight on them out on the perimeter in man, you can’t play off of them on the 3-point line because they’ll throw it up, so we were playing tight most of the game.

“When they were trying to drive around you, everybody’s first instinct is to turn and go with them. That’s the wrong thing to do. You’ve got to jump back and then turn to get in front of them. … You can get in front of them and drive them instead of turning and going straight with them. You can control their drive a little bit better and kind of angle them away from the basket.”

CONTROLLING FLOW: Pat Coffey methodically carries the ball up the court on Wednesday. Southside’s ability to control tempo has led to success on offense. Now the Seahawks are finding ways to direct things with their defense, too.

Having control is what it comes down to on defense. Rarely did the Seahawks play full-court defense on the Mariners. They would pick up the opponent at half court and work from there. The tight man defense was tailored to taking away East Carteret’s lethal long-range shot. It’s also applicable to some other teams in the conference — namely Pamlico County.

Defending the perimeter will also be key to plenty of potential playoff opponents.

Southside now has a battle-tested approach to its defense. The scoring has been there, from the inside out, and now they have what may be the missing piece.

Southside’s biggest detriment to success this season has likely been scarce practice time. With the football team making it to the regional championship, the basketball team was thrown into the fire by having to open the season with road contests at East Carteret and Jones Senior. Practices were few and far between from then on out, even for a coach like White who likes an even balance between practice and games.

Even though the Seahawks had their sights set on a conference championship, their elimination may be a blessing in disguise. The extra practice time will give them a chance to master their defense.

“Based on what I saw (Wednesday), there’s nothing (I want to work on),” White said. “We’ve played the best man-to-man defense we’ve played in a long time in the past three games.”

Fine tuning what worked so well on Wednesday may be the key to upsetting whoever the Seahawks draw in the first round of the playoffs.