By Doug Chapin
WARREN — Not everyone is complaining about all the snow we’ve seen in northeast Ohio in recent weeks.
The Warren Harding High boys basketball team, ranked fourth in the state in Division I by the Associated Press, had two games postponed by the bad weather within the last week. The Raiders had not played since a 59-50 loss at home to Canton McKinley on Feb. 2.
In addition, Harding’s leading scorer, senior guard Fred Williams, was dismissed from the team on Monday.
But on Saturday night it didn’t look as if any of it had affected the Raiders, especially defensively, as they dispatched a talented Zanesville High team by a score of 53-39.
“We had great practices, we really got after it,” Harding coach Steve Arnold said. “We told the kids we were going to pick up the intensity in practice and if they weren’t going to pick up the intensity, then they weren’t going to play. The only thing a coach holds over a kid is playing time. If you want to play, you’re going to do what we ask you to do. How we played today, diving on the floor, getting deflections, that’s how we practiced.
“We wanted to play last Saturday against Mansfield and we wanted to play Tuesday against Youngstown East, but it worked out because it gave us practice time. We’re still working through some things, trust me, but having those days off maybe helped us a little bit.”
Ahead 25-21 at halftime, Harding (14-2) put together a 15-2 run in the third period that included an absolutely dominating 11-0 stretch that covered less than two minutes. The Raiders led 31-25 at the 5:35 mark of the quarter and led 42-25 with 3:55 on the clock. During that time, Zanesville’s five possession resulted in two turnovers and three Harding steals. The Blue Devils (11-5) never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“I told the kids how proud I was of them, of the hustle they displayed defensively,” Arnold said. “When our defense is like that it makes our offense so much easier because we get transition baskets. We don’t have to come down and grind out every possession. It’s imperative that we get up in passing lanes, we make it baseline to baseline instead of 3-point arc to 3-point arc.”
With Williams, a three-year starter, out of the lineup, there will be some role changes among the Raiders.
“We are re-defining roles. Other guys have to step up, we need other guys to do a little bit more,” Arnold said. “You don’t replace what Fred has given us, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. But you pick up the pieces, a little bit of this kid, a little bit of that kid. You compensate for it in various ways.
“We did that tonight, and it started in practice. I really need to say it started in practice.”
Kennis White led the Harding offense with 22 points and six assists. Tre’ Brown had nine points, five assists and five steals. Angel Gonzalez led the Raiders on the boards with seven rebounds and Dominique Murray added nine points.
Considering Williams’ experience, leadership is an area in which others will have to shoulder more of the load.
“I thought Angel, Kennis and Tre did it [showed leadership] by committee, Oneal [Brown] did it vocally in practice,” Arnold said. “Again, I’m reverting back, saying it started in practice. Oneal and Dominique are two very good leaders. They’re not the most talented kids, but they work hard and show great leadership.”