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Chester sidesteps turnovers, Academy Park

SHARON HILL >> It can be worn down to the point of cliché by coaches. But Tuesday night, as Chester’s offense threw the ball everywhere but into teammates’ hands for its first seven trips up the floor, the old bromide rang true. Most of the offense Chester generated against Academy Park, it seemed, would have to start on the defensive end.
And no one embraced that mandate more fully than Brian Randolph.

At the top of the key in a 3-2 zone defense that stifled Academy Park’s usually robust outside shooting, Randolph’s length translated into seven steals and 11 rebounds, which led to a game-high 17 points in a 50-33 Chester win in both teams’ Del Val League openers.

All of Randolph’s points came in the first half, an otherwise disastrous opening 16 minutes that the Clippers might not have survived without Randolph. Chester had amassed just 20 points at the break, holding a two-point edge. Randolph was 7-for-9 from the field in the first half; the rest of his team was 1-for-7.

The shooting numbers only tell part of the tale, though, since Chester (3-5, 1-0) turned the ball over nine times in the half, including on each of its first seven possessions. The Clippers’ first shot attempt — not just made basket, but simply attempt — came 4:44 into the game when Randolph drove to the rim and laid in for two.

“We were pretty much rushing in the beginning of the game,” Randolph said. “I was just trying to take the easy and smart shots. … I got into a rhythm early, and that kept us in it in the first half.”

“You’ve got to be smart with it,” point guard Michael Smith said. “First half, we had nine turnovers. But when we started to slow the ball up, we started getting in our sets and running the right plays, that’s when we cut down our turnovers and it made it easy for us.”

When the points dried up for Randolph after the break, he still influenced the game. His 6-2 frame and longer reach at the center of the 3-2 zone both denied AP entrance to the paint and held the Knights to just 2-for-15 shooting from 3-point range.

Add in 12 total steals by the Clippers and seven blocks (five by Zahmir Carroll), and it sums to the kind of defensive effort first-year coach Keith Taylor is after, even if the offensive execution continues to lag.

Most impressively, Academy Park (2-7, 0-1) mustered just four fourth-quarter points, Chester finishing on a 16-2 dash. Subtract the seven points Chester spotted the Knights in those turnover-marred opening minutes and the Clippers scored 50 of the game’s final 76 points, banishing the demons in a gym where Chester had uncharacteristically lost twice in the previous three seasons.

“It was very, very difficult. They got us,” AP forward Kamrohn Roundtree said. “We’re not really a good zone team. They zoned us and that’s really our downfall. We’ve got to work on that in practice.”

Academy Park’s quest wasn’t helped by Naseim Harley, who scored a team-high 14 points, including the team’s only two 3-pointers, getting jostled under the net and fading in and out of the game in the fourth with an injury. Bill Martin added eight points, but the lack of long-range shooting and only six trips to the foul line in a leniently officiated game meant points were tough to come by.

Randolph and his fellow quick-handed Clippers forcing 16 turnovers didn’t help either.

“When you get steals, you get easy baskets,” he said. “And your momentum builds when you see the ball go in the rim. The more steals you get, the easier it is to score.”

Smith was held scoreless in the first half but set the tone out of the gates in the second with a pair of pull-up jumpers in the lane as the Clippers never trailed after the intermission. Smith tallied 10 points.

Rahmee Gilbert got to the basket with regularity after the break for nine points. Carroll paired eight points and five rebounds with the five blocks.

Most importantly, after that wretched start, Chester coughed up just five turnovers in the last three and a half quarters. And Randolph’s dogged work on the defensive end ensured they ended up on the right side of the ledger in the turnover battle.

“What separates good from great is how you impact the game without scoring,” Randolph said. “So I was trying to find ways to do that.”

And with it came a great start to the Clippers’ Del Val League quest.

Elsewhere in the Del Val League:

Glen Mills 66, Chichester 64 >> Khelon Kirkland’s lay-in with 1.6 seconds left capped an 18-point day and made the difference for the Battlin’ Bulls, who showed no rust in their first game since Dec. 21. Ka’ron Thomas added 17 points, and Tarik Bey chipped in 11 for the Bulls (3-3, 1-0).

More pressing for the Eagles (6-3, 0-1) is the loss of DaQuan Granberry to a finger injury in the second half. Granberry still managed to score 14 points. James Hendricks added 13 points, Amiri Stewart poured in 12 and Calvin Church contributed 10.

Penn Wood 56, Interboro 48 >> Chris Nash scored 15 points, and Makai Moore added 11 as the Patriots (5-3, 1-0) won the opener in the league.

Carley Jones led Interboro with 13 points.

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