Boys Basketball Notebook: Peebles’ increased scoring energizing O’Hara

MARPLE >> As statistics from the first night of the basketball season flooded in a week and a half ago, one number stood out, as much for its prodigiousness as its somewhat unlikely source.

In Cardinal O’Hara’s opener against Pope John Paul II at the Devon Prep Tournament, Jaye’Lyn Peebles went off for 33 points in a 54-51 loss.

In absolute terms, that’s a stellar night, not just since he accounted for 65 percent of the Lions’ output. When you consider that the junior guard scored just 45 points last year despite being a regular rotation cog, the outburst is even more glaring.

Cardinal O'Hara's Jaye'Lyn Peebles has accounted for 43 percent of the Lions' points through their first three games this season. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Cardinal O’Hara’s Jaye’Lyn Peebles has accounted for 43 percent of the Lions’ points through their first three games this season. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

Plotting it against his Delco peers adds another dimension of impressiveness: Of the 17 schools launching their seasons that night, only three scorers collected more than 20 points. Peebles was the only member of that trio to top 21.

It hasn’t been a one-off. Through Tuesday, Peebles is among the county leaders in scoring average at 21 points per game for the 2-1 Lions.

“I just tried to play with my team,” Peebles said at practice Monday. “I try to play hard, try to keep that intensity up a little bit, and just try to play defense.”

Watching Peebles grind through Steve Cloran’s high-energy practice, that last line isn’t a perfunctory tack-on. Peebles credits his defense as an anchor, one of the first elements he adapted as a sophomore.

Last season’s Lions had plenty of new faces and slid to 13 losses in their last 14 outings. But the upside to that adversity was players like Peebles who received a chance to work out the kinks. Cloran credits Peebles’ increased comfort and familiarity with the varsity routine as part of his blossoming.

Peebles, a Chester native, spent the summer polishing his shooting. His is a born-and-bred Chester history, from games in the Biddy League and Proverbs League to afternoons hoisting jump shots at the Seventh Street courts or lifting weights at the Boys & Girls Club. The summer workouts with Chester neighbor Zakee Griffin have forged the two into a daunting perimeter pairing.

“I worked on my shot a lot,” Peebles said. “(Cloran) said that I would have to be one of the big shooters on the team this year, so I had to work on my shots.”

The early returns are extremely favorable. He’s matched last season’s tally of 3-pointers (five) in three games, and he augmented his 33-point night with a 21-point outing against Cristo Rey. Peebles’ 63 points account for 43 percent of O’Hara’s output.

Peebles’ progress hasn’t occurred in isolation. Last season’s challenges were exacerbated by injuries to some veteran leaders. Cloran’s 2015-16 squad features plenty of youth, but Peebles, Griffin and Liutauras Repsys, a 6-10 senior in his second year since arriving from Lithuania, provide continuity and direction on the court.

Jaye'Lyn Peebles dribbles at a recent Cardinal O'Hara practice. The junior guard has emerged as one of the Lions' top offensive threats. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Jaye’Lyn Peebles dribbles at a recent Cardinal O’Hara practice. The junior guard has emerged as one of the Lions’ top offensive threats. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

The hope is that last year’s stumbles are out of the way, allowing the current crop to grow.

“We got through some of them, got through a lot,” Peebles said. “But we’ve just got to keep playing hard and try to win more games this year.”

• • •

You may have noticed a new wrinkle in Nick Alikakos’ game. The junior All-Delco forward remains a double-double machine for Episcopal Academy, averaging 23.9 points through a 6-1 start. But he’s added the 3-point shot to his repertoire.

Alikakos is getting plenty of Division I interest, from Patriot League schools like Lafayette to Big 5 member Saint Joseph’s. He’s hoping to generate more buzz with his versatility. His 6-foot-7 stature limits the punishment he can dole out in the paint against bigger opponents at the next level, projecting him as a small forward or stretch four. Either way, knocking down shots from outside is a welcome supplement to his skillset.

Through seven games, Alikakos has knocked down five of six looks from deep, which doesn’t exactly make him Reggie Miller. But the credible threat opens up space in the lane, for he and his teammates.

“He is a very receptive student, and he’s been tremendous with it,” EA coach Craig Conlin said. “And we’ve been encouraging him as a staff to branch out and shoot that with confidence. And he has. All credit to him and our assistant coaches.”

Alikakos can take defenders off the dribble and possesses quickness and instinct to track down rebounds by the bushel. He’s an excellent free-throw shooter, hitting 77.2 percent of nearly 200 attempts last year (though that’s dipped to an uncharacteristically frosty 50.6 percent over an admittedly small sample). Long-range shooting is just another arrow in the quiver.

• • •

What goes through the mind of a coach watching his team endure three scoreless overtimes?

“I’m hoping that one of the kids can make a play,” said Glen Mills coach Tony Bacon, the unfortunate beneficiary of that query after his team’s 39-38 loss to Great Valley Saturday in four overtimes.

The teams headed to overtime tied at 33. The score was knotted at 38 after the first extra session. Fast forward three agonizing OTs, and only a Great Valley free throw separated the squads, bringing a merciful end to a frustrating afternoon.

The drought isn’t as bad as it sounds. The Patriots employed slowdown tactics to limit the Bulls’ possessions to a single-digit total over the three blank OTs. And holding a team to one point over three overtimes (or six over four OTs, or 39 over 48 minutes) is admirably stingy, even if breakdowns aided Alex Roker’s game-tying layup with nine seconds left in regulation or a 3-pointer to peg back Glen Mills’ four-point lead in the first overtime.

Some errors are preventable, like not rushing a possession they waited over a minute to get or knowing when to switch through screens. Those are unavoidable byproducts of a team returning just one player from last year — Tacore Penn, who logged a measly two games at the end of the season.

What stings most is seeing a defensive effort that was worth a win result in something less.

“We had some plays,” Bacon said. “It’s just unfortunate that we miss the shots. Hoping that we learn from this, and a month from now, we’re not in this position.”

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