A basketball season is never won in December, but the roots, the foundation to success can easily be given the proper kickstart to gets things permanently headed in the right direction. With a 4-0 start thanks to a 71-66 victory over Monticello, Orange County already has more wins than it did last year going into the third week in January.
“It feels so great that you just thank God, your family, your teammates, your coaches,” said Orange forward KaeShaun Braxton. “We really just want to try and keep this going.”
The Hornets picked up this win the same way they’ve picked up the other three, with Jordan Shook knocking down outside shots and Braxton dominating in the paint.
“That’s our gameplan right now, working inside-out establishing our inside game first and then finding our shooters on the perimeter,” said Orange coach Adam Utz. “You make a couple of good passes and knock down that outside shot, that’s going to be huge for us from here on out. Teams are going to key in on KaeShaun and double team him.It’s big if our guards step up there.”
Orange jumped out to a 6-2 start, but in a game that was a series of run after run, Monticello tied things up at 8-8 thanks to Dean Lockey. Monticello took an 24-17 lead in the second quarter behind the work of Dylan Booth inside as he had eight of his 19 points in the second frame.
“This is his first year playing basketball and I like his energy” said Monticello coach Gary Spry. “We played some good man-to-man defense there and got some run and jump.”
Things changed quickly for Utz’s squad though at the end of the second.. The Hornets raced back out in front in the final minutes of the half to go up 32-31 at the break.
“KaeShaun and Dylan battled early on and I was a little disappointed with our defense in the first half but we were able to make a few adjustments in the second half that were better,” Utz said. “Still overall, I thought our defensive effort was a little poor tonight.”
The third quarter saw little solved. Orange dominated the first few minutes. Braxton’s second dunk of the game made it 38-33 forcing a monticello timeout in the first minute of the second half. Then a 3-pointer from Shook made it 44-33 to make it a 27-9 run for the Hornets from the second quarter mid-way through the third.
“Coach always says to make our runs bigger than theirs,” Shook said. “We made sure that when they got on their runs we started ours defensively.”
Monticello’s bench asserted itself in the latter half of the third to make it a 1-point game with the Mustangs trailing 47-46 with Andrew Heinemann and Airrick Salisbury knocking down big shots in the final minute of the frame.
The fourth belonged to Braxton. The senior post player picked up 12 of his 28 points to lead the way. Orange jumped out to take a 5-point lead behind Braxton early in the fourth. Monticello bounced back again to make it 63-61 but a Jaylen Alexander bucket made it 65-61 late. Shavon Ellis had four steals on the night and made his presence felt in the fourth defensively. A Marshall Williby 3-pointer gave Orange some breathing room and then with 11 seconds to go Braxton picked up his final basket of the night to push it to 70-62 and put the game out of reach.
“I’ve got to give a shout out to Marshall Williby and Shavon Ellis,” Utz said. “They gave me some clutch efforts in the those last four minutes.”
With his 28, Braxton matched his season average so far. Shook finished with 17 points paved by a trio of 3-pointers. Alexander had 11 points with seven of them coming in the fourth.
“We’re going to keep on pushing on defense and getting better everyday in practice,” Shook said. “The games should be easier if our defense leads us.”
For Monticello, Booth led the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Lockley added 14 points. Sallisbury finisehd with 10 points. Thad Lane added five points.
Orange travels to Powhatan while Monticello host Charlottesville, both on Friday.