By: Eric Van Dril | March 10, 2017
There was a stark difference between Whitney Young and Oak Park-River Forest when they lined up for the opening tip of the Class 4A Proviso East Sectional final.
The Huskies’ lineup featured a tall frontline of senior forwards Cam Gross and Jared Scott, who are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 respectively, and 6-foot-4 junior forward Malachi Ross.
Whitney Young, meanwhile, went small. Very small. It started four guards and senior Lucas Williamson, who is listed on the Dolphins’ roster as a forward but said he considers himself a guard.
It was clear, in that moment and in the 32 minutes that followed, that Whitney Young wasn’t going to out-rebound the Huskies and wasn’t going to block many of their shots.
But Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter and his team, which rolled 73-55 on Friday night, were fine with that. They’d done the calculus, and the benefits of playing very small with this specific group of players outweighed the cost.
In fact, facing a much-larger team provided an opportunity.
“Knowing that they have bigger guys on the floor, we just wanted to run,” Williamson said. “Yeah, we’re definitely small. We didn’t look at that as intimidating. We look at that as a plus, with the way we wanted to play.”
The Dolphins played fast on both ends of the court. One of their goals in doing so, junior guard Justin Boyd (12 points) explained, was to wear down OPRF by pushing the tempo constantly.
Whitney Young appeared to do that.
Its defense swarmed the Huskies (24-7), forcing turnovers and creating offense with its defensive pressure.
The Dolphins’ guards got to the rim regularly, too. They did so both on fast breaks and in the half-court.
“We knew they would not be able to withstand that (fast-paced tempo) for 32 minutes,” Slaughter said. “That’s the way we want to play, and that’s the way we’ve played all year. With those big guys, the neutralization is when we get to them and just continue to drive and try to get to the basket. We were fortunate enough to be able to do that tonight.”
OPRF led 18-17 after the first quarter, but Whitney Young cranked up the tempo in the second. It played extremely fast.
The key play in the second quarter began with senior Craig Beaudion (14 points, five steals) stealing the ball for the second-straight possession. He got the ball to junior point guard Xavier Castaneda, who passed upcourt to junior guard Javon Freeman.
Freeman attacked the rim and threw down a huge, and-one slam.
You can see it here.
— Vonno 😈🔋 (@AintuJavon) March 11, 2017
Freeman (team-high 17 points, five rebounds) hit the ensuing free-throw. Those were the first three points in an 18-5 run that extended into the third quarter.
The Dolphins (24-7) used that run to open up a 45-30 lead. OPRF never recovered.
Whitney Young took over the game with its defense.
“We worked on getting pressed by seven guys (at practice on Thursday),” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “Maybe we should have gone eight or nine.”
Whitney Young switched up its defensive looks to keep the Huskies off-balance, Maloney added.
By playing five guards for much of the game — including senior Jalen Frizell, freshman Tyler Beard and sophomore Myles Baker off of the bench — the Dolphins were able to switch everything.
OPRF out-rebounded Whitney Young 29-20. It grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
There were also several instances when the Huskies were able to finish easily near the rim, but there were many other moments where the Huskies struggled to handle the Whitney Young pressure that was coming at them from all over the court.
“We honestly hadn’t seen that type of heat probably all year,” Maloney said. “That was the best pressing team we’ve seen.”
For Slaughter, the decision to go very small against a team as big as OPRF was in part about maximizing his team’s number of possessions.
The more the better, especially with an offensive attack that was as efficient as Whitney Young’s on Friday night.
“We turned them over I think 28 times. We won that (facet),” Slaughter said. “They can get a couple more rebounds. If those rebounds are not turning into dunks or layups, then we’re still winning it. If they have to shoot jump shots when they’re exhausted, we’re still winning it. That was, in theory, how we looked at it. It wasn’t as much about trying to neutralize (the big men) because we’re not going to beat them on the boards. We knew that.”
The Dolphins’ offensive mentality was as relentless as their defensive mentality.
They attacked constantly on the fast break and in the half-court. They didn’t settle for 3-pointers. Whitney Young has several different players capable of knocking down shots from behind the arc — specifically, Williamson (16 points), Boyd, Baker and junior forward Jake Kosakowski — but the team only attempted three 3-pointers.
“We know we can make 3s,” Boyd explained. “But we know if we keep moving the ball, we’re going to get a better shot.”
The Dolphins did that constantly against OPRF, and it shows in the final stats.
Whitney Young shot 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the field. It was 14-for-18 (77.8 percent) from the free-throw line.
The Dolphins will play Evanston (28-3) in the Class 4A Chicago State Supersectional on Tuesday evening. That game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
The Wildkits had somebody at Proviso East to scout, Slaughter said, but there wasn’t very much that could be learned from the what the Dolphins showed, offensively.
“Because we got in transition as often as we did, there wasn’t really any need to bring it out and run anything,” Slaughter said. “(Evanston) will have to decide what we’re going to do based on what they saw.”
Whitney Young is playing at a very high level, entering its supersectional against the Wildkits. It has won all four of its state playoff games by double-digits.
Boyd and Williamson said they both really like how their team is playing entering the final week of their high-school careers.
“We’re all synching in together,” Boyd said. “We know what we’ve got right now. We’re a special group, and we know what’s coming ahead.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed Justin Boyd as a senior. That is incorrect. Boyd is a junior. The Public League apologizes for the error.