Confident Tigers make a statement

COCOLAMUS – It might have been difficult after East Juniata’s win over non-league opponent Midd-West on Monday to guess that earlier in the season the Tigers had defeated the Mustangs by only five points.

But in Monday’s 58-35 contest, it was clear from early on that the Tigers weren’t going to let it get that close in the teams’ second meeting.

According to Midd-West coach Brent Bobb, his team’s loss can be described in one word – “shooting.”

The first half of the game wasn’t especially strong for either team offensively, but after the half was completed with a 21-9 East Juniata lead, it’s evident why Midd-West’s shooting was the team’s own Achilles heel.

Yet, even if the Mustangs had a chance to get back in the game at the half, East Juniata’s Dillon Leonard had a different idea going into the third.

After the break, Leonard got hot beyond the arc in a big way – hitting three deep ones, in addition to a 2-point field goal, to put up 11 of the Tigers’ 19 third-quarter points. This was compared to Midd-West’s nine third-quarter points – six of which came from Kahill Brooker – to increase East Juniata’s lead to 40-18.

“Some guys needed to be a little more confident and focus on what they need to do to get shots,” East Juniata coach Brock Anders said of his team’s first half performance. But by the third quarter, everything had fallen into place for the Tigers.

“We obviously made some adjustments in some spots according to what they were doing – especially from the first game to this game – putting guy in positions to be able to score. And I thought especially in the third quarter with Dillon (Leonard) being able to respond and make some shots really opened up a lot of things we try to do,” Anders said.

In the fourth, the Mustangs had their best quarter offensively – matching the Tigers nearly point-for-point in the 18-17 quarter – but it was far too late to amount to any type of a comeback.

For those last eight minutes, the Mustangs got buckets from Brooker, Dylan Folk, Colton Keister, Jacob Shaffer, Ascher Marks and Marshall Dupuy, and were more reminiscent of the team that had challenged East Juniata earlier in the season.

“We played every bit as intense tonight as we did at the Christmas tournament, we just couldn’t get our buckets to fall,” Bobb said.

However, in addition to trouble on offense, one key difference between Monday’s game and the last was that East Juniata broke Midd-West’s full court press, whereas in the first game that same press had given the Tigers trouble all game long.

“I think that obviously we were a little inexperienced at times when we played them at Christmas. When they pressed us, we didn’t get on the spots on the floor that were necessary. A couple teams we’ve played recently have thrown similar kinds of presses at us, so we worked pretty hard as a coaching staff to put the guys on the spots on the floor to break the press, and I thought we got in the correct spots tonight and got ourselves some easy odd-man break passes,” Anders said.

This improvement might have been especially nice for Anders to see considering the Tigers’ 66-47 loss to Tri-Valley League opponent Upper Dauphin on Saturday.

“I challenged a couple of the leaders on the team – Nick (Lorenz), Bailey (Coder) and Cole (Snyder) – to getting these guys prepared and going out and leading on the floor and setting a good example. I thought they responded well, and therefore the rest of the guys on the team and on the bench made some contributions tonight which was a pleasant relief after our loss on Saturday.”

On the leadership end, Lorenz not only led by example, but also led in scoring as he put up a game-high 26 points, 14 of which were scored in the fourth quarter.

East Juniata (12-3) hosts TVL opponent Juniata today. The Mustangs (3-10), who won the JV game, 63-37, will get back in action Wednesday when they host Danville.