Tall order: Jeannette boys prepare for matchup with Cambridge Springs’ 6-8 tandem
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Monday, March 12, 2018 | 9:33 PM
Jeannette assistant basketball coach Ken Errett held a contact pad above his head at Monday's practice.
“That's how we simulate 6-8,” Errett said, stretching the training device even higher.
A tall task awaits Jeannette (20-4) in the second round of the PIAA Class 2A boys basketball playoffs. Cambridge Springs (21-5) has two 6-foot-8 senior forwards in Turner Kurt and Reese Eakin. The pair proved to be a perilous post challenge for Leechburg in the first round as they combined for 38 points and 20 rebounds in a 77-54 win.
The Jayhawks, in the second round for the first time since 2012, take on the Blue Devils on Wednesday night at Farrell and will likely have to negotiate that height factor.
Jeannette has size, too, but not as much. And it essentially has an all-guard lineup with its tallest players often roaming the perimeter.
“It doesn't change how we play,” said Jeannette 6-4 senior guard Tre Cunningham, who scored 20 against Purchase Line and averages 19. “But we'll need to be patient on offense because we won't be able to really attack their bigs. We might need more pull-ups and floaters.”
Jeannette opened the state tournament with a 63-45 win over Purchase Line, a fast start fueled by pressure defense and pinpoint passing setting the tone.
“We know we're going to have to knock down some outside shots,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “We can't let (Cambridge Springs) play their style. We want a track meet; they want to slow it down.”
Jeannette gets Anthony Johnson back. The 6-4 junior guard had to sit out one game because he was ejected in the WPIAL semifinal loss to OLSH for receiving two technical fouls. Johnson and others will likely have to assert themselves more defensively to counter Kurt (18 points, 10.5 rebounds per game) and Eakin (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg). “We have to come out and play hard with the same mentality as always,” said Johnson, who averages 21 points. “We're not too worried about their size. I have played against 7-foot guys in AAU. We just have to play our game.”
Cambridge Springs, the runner-up from District 10, played a back-to-the-basket game against a smaller Leechburg lineup. If faced with that same challenge, Jeannette might have to be equally patient on both ends of the floor and try to trigger turnovers with its press.
“Attack and dish,” Cunningham said. “We worked on skip passes because we might not be able to lob as much. They're probably going to tighten up and play zone. I think if we make them go man they won't be able to handle us.”
One matchup to watch is between Jeannette senior Robert Kennedy and Cambridge Springs senior Noah Reisenauer. Both all-around players are about 6-foot tall and both were dual-threat quarterbacks and standout defensive backs in football.
Both do more than score, each rebounding, defending and passing to keep things moving.
Reisenauer scored 28 against Leechburg. He averages 15.6 points.
Kennedy, the small schools' Mr. PA Football, often is Jeannette's shutdown defender, assigned to guard the opponents' go-to scorer.
“We have to defend and rebound it,” Batts said. “When we play hard, good things happen.”
Jeannette played well against taller teams this season. Connellsville had 6-6 Seth Youkin, Franklin Regional had several players at 6-4 or taller and East Allegheny brought a pair of 6-6 players.
Jeannette lost the latter two matchups but admittedly did not shoot the ball well in either game.
“And Serra's Jimmy Moon is a legit 6-7,” Batts said. “If their big guys can dunk, so what? If you have 10 dunks for one team and 10 3-pointers for the other, who wins?”
Perhaps the two will cancel each other out and the game will come down to free-throw shooting. Jeannette was 13 of 29 from the foul line against Purchase Line but got away with it.
“We have to make our free throws,” Batts said. “That's how you win a lot of playoff games.”