Mark Adams has long been an advocate of defense first in basketball, but even he approved of the offensive fireworks the Howard College Hawks set off inside Garrett Coliseum Thursday night.
A scorching first half paved the way for Howard to take a 71-54 win over New Mexico Junior College in Western Junior College Athletic Conference men's basketball action Thursday night.
The win improved the Hawks to 15-5 overall and 4-2 in WJCAC play, while NMJC dropped to 15-6, 3-3.
In the women's game, league-leading NMJC's defense proved too tough for Howard to handle as the Lady Thunderbirds claimed a 60-46 victory to improve to 20-2 and 5-0 for the season; Howard dropped to 14-8 and 1-3 with the loss.
It wasn't just that the Hawks shot well against NMJC Thursday — for a significant stretch of the first half, they couldn't miss.
Their first two shots of the game were off the mark, but after that, the Hawks went 10 minutes before they misfired again, opening up a comfortable 28-14 lead in the process.
What made the offensive explosion especially noteworthy is that most of the production came from outside — 18 of the Hawks' points during that first-half stretch came from three-point range.
Among those impressed with the outburst was Adams, the Hawks' defensive-minded head coach.
“We were off the charts, we shot so well,” Adams said. “When you shoot like that, it's a mix of good and bad news — there's no way you can keep that pace up and there's a tendency to become complacent. But I thought the guys did a good job of maintaining their intensity in the second half. I was proud of the way they played.”
As Adams predicted, the Hawks cooled off in the second half, but their defense never allowed NMJC to get closer than nine points at any point.
Freshman guard Jacob Thomas led the Hawks with 20 points, 15 of which came from three-point range.
“This was by far our best offensive game of the season,” Thomas said. “We've been working on our shot selection really hard in practice … Coach Adams called this one of the biggest games of the year for us and everybody came with their best game tonight.”
Thomas has battled foot injuries for the better part of two years, but both he and Adams believe he's beginning to reach his full potential.
“He's playing so well right now,” Adams said. “And the best thing is that he's going to get even better.”
“This is the best game I've had since I've been back,” Thomas agreed. “Coach Adams said he wanted me to come out and be aggressive on offense (Thursday) and things worked out well.”
Also scoring in double figures for the Hawks were wing men Shavon Coleman (15 points) and Calvin Godfrey (11).
Howard, which is tied with Midland College and Odessa College for second place in the WJCAC standings, returns to action Monday when the Hawks travel to Borger to take on Frank Phillips College. Game time is 7:45 p.m.
NMJC (54) — Lorelle Waters 3 0-0 7; Marvin Binney 3 2-3 10; Alex Phillips 1 2-2 4; Desmond Lee 8 0-0 18; Alexander Ovcharenko 1 2-3 3; Robert Turner 1 0-1 2; Dequan Hicks 2 2-4 6; Ryan Okwudibonye 2 0-0 4; totals 21 7-12 54.
HOWARD (71) — Leon Cooper 2 2-2 4; Rico Richardson 3 0-0 7; Jacob Thomas 6 3-4 20; Calvin Godfrey 4 3-4 11; Phillip Miller 2 0-0 6; Shavon Coleman 6 2-2 15; Damion McGee 2 2-2 6; totals 25 12-14 71.
Halftime — Howard 38, NMJC 22; Three-point goals — NMJC (Waters, Binney 2, Lee 2), Howard (Cooper, Thomas 5, Miller 2, Coleman); Total fouls — NMJC 18, Howard 17; Fouled out — Howard (Smith).
Howard was able to stay close to the conference leaders for a half, but NMJC came out of intermission with a 12-2 run, and the Lady T-Birds were never headed.
New Mexico's edge on offense was its high-low game — guards Kya DeGarmo and Brianna Jones were able to consistently lob the ball inside to post players Te'onna Campbell and Honor Duvall for easy baskets. Campbell and Duvall led the Lady T-birds with 18 and 17 points, respectively.
“In the first half, we did a good job against their high-low sets,” Howard Coach Earl Diddle said. “But in the second half … they just got hot on us.”
A bright spot for Howard was the play of point guard Kali Jerrell, who scored 18 points, but she was the only HC player in double figures.
“In the first three or four minutes of the game, we failed to set the tempo,” Diddle said. “And, in the second half, we got out of position a lot on defense, and that really cost us.”
Since winning their conference opener against Western Texas, the Hawks have found themselves in a four-game tailspin, a situation Diddle said he and the team must correct soon.
“It's a 12-game conference schedule, and you have to find some way to keep going,” he said. “You just need to find something positive to work on, and go on from there.”
Howard returns to action Monday at Frank Phillips in Borger. Game time is 5:45 p.m.
NMJC (60) — Kya DeGarmo 2 0-0 4; Stacie Telles 2 2-2 8; Waleska Perez 5 0-0 11; Valerie Barriga 1 0-0 2; Te'onna Campbell 5 8-10 18; Honor Duvall 6 5-5 17; totals 21 15-17 60.
HOWARD (46) — Kali Jerrell 5 6-8 18; Katlin Luscombe 1 0-0 2; Tori Tucker 1 0-0 2; Zeslie Johnson 3 0-0 6; Marion Lemonnier 3 0-0 7; Carolyn Taylor 2 1-2 5; Brushea Daniels 2 2-2 6; totals 17 9-12 46.
Halftime — NMJC 26, Howard 19; Three-point goals — NMJC (Telles 2, Perez), Howard (Jerrell 2,, Lemonnier); Total fouls — NMJC 15, Howard 14; Fouled out — none.