Wolves swamp gators, 77-60, in WCD opener

For 16 minutes Wednesday night, the South Kitsap boy’s basketball team seemed to ignore the obvious.

Despite a distinct advantage in height and athleticism along the base-line, South found itself in a shooting contest with Decatur during the first half of the opening round of the West Central District Basketball Tournament.

But once the Wolves went to their strength, the Gators were sent home on the heels of a 77-60 loss.

“The first half, I don’t think we played real well,” senior wing Conner Gehring said. “We knew we had to pick it up in the second half. Coach told us to work on some things, and that we had an advantage down low. In the second half, we took advantage of that.”

Wednesday’s victory sent the No. 3-ranked Wolves into a WCD quarterfinal matchup with Federal Way late Friday night. The winner of Friday’s game moved into the WCD semifinals and automatically earns a berth in the March 8-11 Class 4A state tournament, while the loser falls into the consolation bracket and would face an immediate-elimination game Wednesday.

If South, 21-1, won Friday, it would face the winner of the Kentwood-Foss game at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Puyallup High School.

A South loss would send the Wolves to a loser-out, winner-to-state game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night at Foss High against either Puyallup or Bellarmine Prep.

And while South ended up winning by a comfortable margin against Decatur, it took a while for things to get going.

“It just seemed that (in the first half) we were settling for jump shots rather than getting penetration or dumping it in,” SK Coach John Callaghan said. “The key for us is to move the ball. We need to make more than one or two or three passes sometimes. I think that when we do that, good things happen.”

For most of the first half, both teams seemed content trading buckets from the outside, which played right into Decatur’s strength with its lineup of small, quick shooting guards.

At times, Decatur had what amounted to five shooting guards on the floor simultaneously. South countered by going to a smaller, quicker lineup with guards Tippy Burk and Tysasiah Curry on the floor together for most of the second quarter.

In fact, Curry played point for a while, moving Burk to the No. 2 guard to help slow down the Gator’s outside attack.

“(Decatur) wasn’t hurting us inside at all,” Callagahn said. “We had to get out and pressure that, so we went small for a little while, and that kind of paid off for us.”

But Callaghan said his team didn’t take advantage of the mismatches it held under the basket. Not until the second half.

“We wanted to pound the ball and get it inside,” he said. “And I think we did do a better job of that in the second half.”

That’s when South went to its size advantage, and L.P. Neloms led the way. The junior scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, including nine quick points in the third quarter as South broke open a 33-28 halftime game.

“We just took what they gave us,” Neloms said. “Coach wasn’t happy with what I was doing (in the first half) and basically wanted me to shoot a little bit more and just be a little bit more aggressive, and that’s what I tried to do.”

But despite going inside, South couldn’t put Decatur away until midway through the fourth period, when the Wolves, on the strength of their free-throw shooting, outscored the Gators 23-14 down the stretch.

South nailed 13 of 16 free throws in the final eight minutes and ended the game hitting 19 of 24 from the line.

“These types of games are where you learn the most, definitely,” Gehring said. “We still need to get better and better each game so games like this will really help us out.”

While Neloms’ 18 points led the Wolves, Gehring and Ryan Sweet netted 14 each and Josh Monagle added 11.

Andrew Kim paced the Gators with 18 while JaRon Brown added 12.

South Kitsap 77, Decatur 60

Score by quarters

Decatur 19 9 18 14 – 60

South Kitsap 18 15 21 23 – 77

Decatur – Marcus Tibbs 6, 1-1 – 7; Andrew Kim 17, 1-2 – 18; Travis Wagner 11, 0-0 – 11; JaRon Brown 12, 0-0 – 12; Darious Walker 8, 2-2 – 10; Tristan Gamble 0, 0-0 – 0; Kurt Cortez 2, 0-0 – 2; Michael Oates 0, 0-0 – 0; Cam Schilling 0, 0-0 – 0; Alex Lewis 0, 0-0 – 0; Aaron Greelee 0, 0-0 – 0. Team totals: 56, 4-5 – 60.

South KItsap – Conner Gehring 9, 5-7 – 14; Tippy Burk 0, 6-6 – 6; LP Neloms 12, 6-7 – 18; Ryan Sweet 14, 0-1 – 14; Josh Monagle 10, 1-2 – 11; Tysasiah Curry 7, 0-0 – 7; Evan Atwater 2, 1-1 – 3; Joe Pisa 0, 0-0 – 0; Dan Nelson 2, 0-0 – 2; Kris Carlson 0, 0-0 – 0; Garrett Boone 2, 0-0 – 2; Jared Privatt 0, 0-0 – 0. Team totals: 58, 19-24 – 77.

Three-point field goals: Kim, Wagner 3, Gehring, Curry.

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