By Brian Dzenis
South Range coach John Cullen may have questionable grasp of subtraction, but he can really coach defensive basketball.
His Raiders team did something special Tuesday night, handing McDonald its first loss in a 57-49 victory.
Cullen couldn’t recall the last time he’s seen the Blue Devils — who are good for at least 80 points a game — were held below 50.
“I’m smart enough to remember that 82 minus 49 is 53 or 43 or whatever it is, but that’s really good defense for us,” Cullen said.
South Range (11-0) trailed by five points at halftime, but rallied in the second.
Turnovers were an early problem for the Raiders, but they became better adjusted to McDonald’s press as the game went on.
On offense, the key was ball movement and on defense, pushing Zach Rasile — the state record-holder for threes in a season — as far from the basket as possible while never offering a clean look.
“We had to get back to where we were in practice,” Cullen said. “The things we did in the second half were the same things we did in practice.
“In the first half, we looked like a chicken with our head chopped off,” Cullen said. “Let’s be honest — defensive intensity makes people do things that they’re not used to doing.
”Our young guys can’t give you the looks McDonald does in practice, just like the younger guys [for McDonald] can’t give them the looks we give them.
“We were a little more efficient in the second half and they weren’t.”
Mike Cunningham collected most of his game-high 25 points in the paint.
“Taking the time was the biggest thing for me tonight,” Cunningham said. “We tried to stay away from outside shots as much as we could and we worked the pump fake.
“We got them off their feet and made the simple play to lay it up and in.”
No one else reached double figures for the Raiders, but they got a balanced effort from everyone. Joining in that effort was senior Brandon Youngs. He saw his first extended action in a game on Tuesday since suffering a horrific injury in the fall. During a Sept. 20 soccer game against Ursuline, Youngs broke his leg in a collision with the opposing team’s goaltender. The break was so severe that paramedics carried him off the field.
“I’ve been working really hard to get back with this amazing team of ours,” an emotional Youngs said. “You can’t really put it into words. It’s been an emotional ride and just getting in, getting good minutes and scoring points to help the team is all I can ask for.”
Youngs has been a part of numerous big games across four sports at South Range. As a sophomore, he was the top forward in the soccer team’s push to a state final appearance. He’s been a kicker with the football team and had pitched for the baseball team in addition to what he provides for the basketball team.
On Tuesday, five of his six points came in the fourth quarter. Leading by three points with under three minutes to go, Youngs hit consecutive layups and converted an and-one free throw to push the lead to 51-43.
“I was ecstatic. Whatever I can do to help at this stage I’m at, it’s great,” Youngs said.
Zach Rasile, the son of McDonald coach Jeff Rasile, led the Blue Devils with 22 points and Braeden Poole — who struggled with fouls — added 11.
Like Cullen, Jeff Rasile couldn’t remember the last time his team was held under 50 points.
“Defense won tonight and that’s a complement to them, but Braeden got in foul trouble and that hurt us,” Rasile said. “We jump out 10-0 and he gets his second foul and he was on the bench and couldn’t get anything going tonight.”
McDonald depends on Poole. While the Blue Devils are no slouch at 8-1, they lean heavily on Zach Rasile and Poole for offense.
“Braeden has foul trouble every game unfortunately. After that initial foul trouble, he wasn’t, but in the second half, he plays like he has four fouls when he has two,” Jeff Rasile said. “I told him to be more aggressive and he couldn’t find a rhythm.
“Everyone knows we rely on two guys offensively and when one of those guys is out, they focus on the other guy and its that much more difficult,” Rasile said. “It wasn’t Zach’s best shooting night, but he didn’t have open looks. I thought their hands were on us a little bit, but we have to deal with that.”