"It's All About The Game"
Feeding bigs leads WS to 'W'
Ron Bailey, Publisher
Playoff against rival WT Woodson created by finding frontcourt.
February 23, 2015 - Though enjoying a lead basically throughout the game, West Springfield had not closed the door on Annandale Thursday night, effectively leaving the Atoms with an upset chance in this Virginia playoff regional matchup. WS did lead by as much as nine with 3:11 in the third quarter, but plucky Annandale constantly fought back.
With under three minutes to play, WS did what it needed to do; press an advantage, in this case utilizing its inside game. Riding senior forward John Cronin, the Spartans went one around four, got the ball inside and minimized defensive help, eventually salting away a 61-55 victory, their first playoff experience in seven years.
"That's been our bread and butter" said coach Dermia Marshall of feeding Cronin, a move aided by the Atoms going small. "Seniors rise to the top. He's been in the wars, so we just rolled with him. We told him we're going to get you the ball, so he had to go and make a play".
That's John Cronin, snagging a reboundd for the West Springfield Spartans.
Cronin, who scored a game high 17 points noted "That's the strength of the team, getting it inside. We sort of got away from it during the game". John felt he struggled earlier on, but when it counted "we trust it at the end of the game, and I could make a play".
That he did, scoring back to back posts buckets, the first a and-one play within the last two minutes. It was clear Annandale would not recover.
From an Atoms perspective, sophomore guard Dontae Johnson (16 points) acknowledged "We stopped helping down in the post as much, so they were just getting one on one looks and making it", also adding "And then they were getting loose balls and feeding them to the big, and finding open layups".
Johnson went 9 of 10 from the free throw line for Annandale, whose season has ended at 8-14. Senior guard Austin Hall finished with 12 points, but had several poor judgment shots throughout, bad plays for such a skilled ball handler capable of getting into the lane at will.
West Springfield's junior guard Spencer Askew had nine points, while junior big man Lewis Djonkam finished with seven points for the Spartans, now 14-9 and heading into a win or go home match with W.T. Woodson.
That game was planned for today, but Fairfax County school officials have suspended instruction for the day, necessitating a reschedule. The two teams are intimately aware of one another, having split in regular season Conference 7 action, as well as having coaching links; Marshall, West Springfield's first year head coach was a long time assistant under W.T.'s Doug Craig. The two share a friendship off the court, but make no bones about it, want to defeat each other. Each team's players understand this, fueling the stakes.
"They have a quality team, have some good players" said Cronin of the Cavs. "But we'll be ready. I know that".
John Cronin - 6'4", 200 senior forward, West Springfield - Cronin is a gamer, a guy that claws and fights his way to victory. An All-District guy for the second year in a row, Cronin has earned the respect of not only opposing coaches, but his own as well.
"Without a question" said WS's Marshall, when asked if his starting forward was the Spartan's heart and soul. "He's been playing all year hurt, and he's just trying to get through it. He's sucked it up all year".
Cronin cleans glass, scores in the paint and is crafty; during the Atoms game, his savvy post defense was noted, which included bodying up post players on moves, without being called for a foul. He can play the game.
Marshall indicated "It's between Randolph-Macon and Mary Washington, with an outside chance of Washington and Lee" welcoming Cronin next year. Wherever he attends, a more confident mid-range face up game will open up his frontcourt game.
Lewis Djonkam - 6'8", 230 pound junior forward, West Springfield - A mid-season transfer from Bishop O'Connell (VA), Djonkam seems to be finding a comfort zone. Of the integration, Marshall noted "It's going well. It's just the point of the different terminology...Now I think he's more settled in".
His functioning within those X's and O's have been an adjustment as well. Case in point, "We've been playing a sagging defense, and you know Lewis is a high energy guy, wants to be highly aggressive. We probably had to slow him down a little bit", shared Marshall.
"It's not as hard as I thought it would be" said Djonkam of getting used to NOVA public school hoops. "The referring is a lot different...the WCAC is a lot more physical. But it's been pretty good".
Interestingly enough, Djonkam's recruitment has not wavered.
"Recruiting is going pretty good for me" shared Lewis who identified "Lasalle, Tulsa, I think the newest one I've been talking to a little bit is Drexel" as the schools in his mix.
That list will certainly expand this summer with DC Thunder. Becoming a more confident mid-range shooter should be a point of focus.
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