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December 18, 2013

Brid Breezes by Dale

Final - - L.C. Bird 89, Thomas Dale 71

Two days after watching their football team win a second consecutive state title, the L.C. Bird Skyhawks continued their winning ways on Monday night in another sport. In a non-conference and out-of-district rivalry matchup on Monday night, the host Skyhawks beat the visiting Thomas Dale Knights in basketball by a comfortable margin of 89-71, jumping out to a 26-point advantage in the first half.

It moved Bird's overall record to 5-1 and marked their fourth straight win after an unexpected loss to George Wythe in the Championship of the Bill Littlepage Tip-Off Classic at Hopewell High School.

"It's coming together for us. Each year is a different team, and even though we had a lot of guys coming back, expectations were different than last year. The kids are realizing that," declared L.C. Bird Head Basketball Coach Troy Manns.

"The more expectations you gets, the more relaxed kids get, which can scare you as a coach. The George Wythe game really hurt. The kids didn't like that feeling, and from that point on, everybody was locked in."

L.C. Bird led from wire to wire, shooting 56.3% from the field (36-of-64) and converting 85% of their free-throw tries (11-for-13). They connected on 55% of their three-point tries (6-of-11) before the start of the fourth quarter.

Before the end of the opening period, Thomas Dale found itself down 21. Bird's high-octane attack and speedy guards as well as athletic wings had the Knights playing catch-up before they could even put the seatbelt on and settle into things.

One thing Manns that pleased was their rebounding, an area of concern for him going into the season with not much size in the front-court outside of 6-foot-7 junior center Thomas Taylor. The Skyhawks cleaned up on the glass and out-rebounded Dale 36-24. However, half of those rebounds for the Knights came on the offensive boards, leading to several second chance points.

"We've got to rebound the basketball. If we can rebound the ball, everything else takes care of itself," believes Manns. "We've been giving up way too many second shots. We work on it and emphasize it in practice. That's the downside to having the small guards."

Player of the Game: L.C. Bird SG Kenny Williams - - It was another brilliant showing for the 6-foot-3 junior standout, finishing with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field to go with a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals.

"My point guard Malik (Johnson) looked for me, I got open shots and I knocked them down," stated Williams on his performance.

Williams put on a show in front of George Mason's coaching staff played far more comfortable than 12 days prior in the team's loss to Wythe when he misfired on 16 of 20 shot attempts. His unselfishness and efficiency on the offensive end of the court set him apart, but his alert and intense play on the defensive end kept Dale from keeping pace and making it a shoot-out.

Keys to Victory:

#1 - - Hot Start: It was imperative that Bird delivered a knockout punch on Dale right away and that they did as the Knights dropped to 3-3 overall. The Skyhawks simply got off to a torrid shooting start, sinking 10 of their first 15 shot attempts before the 3 minute mark of the game's opening stanza.

By the end of one quarter, Bird led by 22 and Thomas Dale had turned it over eight times, seven on steals from the Skyhawks. That was compared to no turnovers by the Skyhawks, who got 64% from the floor through eight minutes of action.

"My teammates and me were fired up," Williams noted. "We wanted to come out and punch them in the mouth as fast as we could. I'm usually the focal point for teams to stop, so I look to get my teammates involved. The more they're involved, the more it opens it up for myself."

#2 - - Contain White: Six-foot-2 junior guard Andrien White of Thomas Dale has been a buzz name early in this season. He erupted for 39 points and 12 rebounds earlier in the campaign vs. Prince George, and Austin Peay is one of the D-1 schools beginning to express interest in him.

Although White had two rim-rocking dunks and finished with 18 points and seven boards, Bird wasn't going to let him beat them by himself, and forced him to work for many of those points. They kept his shot attempts down to 12, and through one period of play he was scoreless.

"That was huge because that's who we game-planned to stop," Williams admitted. "To hold him to zero points in the first quarter actually helped us build the lead. We got plenty of steals, denied him the ball and got in the open floor, which we play well in."

#3 - - Easy Points: Breakaway lay-ups and transition points. With a smaller lineup that likes to run, that's what Bird thrives off of, and they got the game to their liking immediately. The Skyhawks didn't fall in love with the three-point shot and got high-percentage looks from the very beginning. Much of that credit goes to junior point guard Malik Johnson, who scored 23 points and handed out eight assists to serve as a another playmaker alongside Williams.

Much of that was sparked by the Bird defense, digging into Dale's guards and preventing them from getting in a flow that they wanted to establish in the half-court to run their offense and dictate tempo.

"We play hard and we play defense. We get up in you, full-court the whole game basically, and we play together," remarked Williams. "We have a lot of chemistry, find the guys with the open shots and you never know who's going to have the good night on any night."

Postgame Audio with L.C. Bird Hoops Coach Troy Manns

Final Stats:

L.C. Bird Skyhawks 89: (5-1 Overall)
Kenny Williams - - 28Pts. 10-15FG, 7-7FT, 13Reb. 6Ast. 3Stl.
Malik Johnson - - 23Pts. 10-13FG, 3-4FT, 8Ast. 3Stl.
Thomas Taylor - - 8Pts. 4-6FG, 6Reb. 3Blk.
C.J. Miles - - 8Pts. 3-7FG, 2-4 3's, 2Ast.
Johquin 'Pinky' Riley - - 8Pts. 3-7FT

Thomas Dale Knights 71: (3-3 Overall)
Andrien White - - 18Pts. 6-12FG, 8-9FT, 7Reb. 2Stl.
Colin Fleischer - - 13Pts. 8-15FG, 3Reb. 2Ast.
Christian Clark - - 9Pts. 3-7FG, 3-3FT, 3Ast.
A.J. Holliday - - 8Pts. 3-6FG, 2Reb. 5Ast.

Matthew Hatfield serves as State Basketball Analyst for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail hatfieldsports2k4@yahoo.com, and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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