By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
COLLINSVILLE – Sand Rock boys basketball coach John Blackwell knows L.D. Dobbins Gym in Collinsville can be a tough basketball environment in which to shoot.
That’s all the more reason why Blackwell places a strong emphasis on the defensive end to give the Wildcats a chance in those tough environments.
Sand Rock managed to grind out to a seven-point third quarter lead, and senior point guard Jacob StClair was able to connect on 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter to help preserve a 54-39 victory over their area rivals on Wednesday.
“That’s what we tell our guys. The defense gets off the bus every game,” Blackwell said. “Just play defense and give yourself a chance and the offense will come around. It kind of did that.
“We’ve really stressed the last two or three weeks screening out and limit teams to just one shot per trip. The first shot is usually defended, but if they get the offensive rebound, it’s hard to defend that one as much as you do the first one. If you can limit them to one shot, you’ve got yourself in a better position. We did a good job of that tonight.”
Sand Rock (10-5, 4-0) held a 9-7 advantage at the end of the first quarter and a 19-17 edge at halftime. The Wildcats built a 32-25 lead after three quarters, then made 10-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.
StClair, who surpassed 2,000 points for his career in the game, finished with a game-high 26 points. He was 9-of-11 from the free-throw line for the game.
“If you’re playing behind against them in the fourth quarter it’s tough. You’ve got to be even or ahead,” Collinsville coach Jon Tidmore said. “When it got to eight or nine, they pulled it out and you can’t scheme anymore. You’ve got to go out and guard everybody and that’s hard to do with No. 1 (StClair) out there. He can find the open guy, even when two are on him.”
Bradley Jackson added nine points and 11 rebounds for the Wildcats. Ben Dale delivered six points and seven boards. Zack Clanton also contributed six points. Kaden Justice finished with five points.
Colton Wills, who was honored before Wednesday’s games for scoring his 1,000th point, led the Panthers (9-6, 1-3) with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He connected on four 3-pointers. Gavin Lang added 12 points, including a pair of treys, and six boards.
“I think the boys played extremely well and hard on defense,” Tidmore said. “I don’t know what the rebounds were, but I think we held our own on the glass, which you’ve got to do against them because they’re so athletic.
“The boys are getting there. I think there’s a real chance for us to be pretty good down the stretch.”