Experienced Daniel Boone downs Kutztown at Crossover Hoops Showcase

POTTSTOWN >> At halftime, Daniel Boone found itself looking in the mirror of last year. Their opponent was playing a style similar to the Blazers’ approach during the 2015-16 season.

“The last two years our style was mostly to limit (opponents’) possessions,” Daniel Boone senior guard Ryan Okuniewski would say later, after his 17 points led the Blazers to a 55-46 win over Kutztown Friday morning in the opening game of the Crossover Hoops Inc. Holiday Showcase at the Hill School. “That’s the way we were going to win games, because we were undermanned … Playing against their zone, honestly, I felt at halftime this is the type of team that we were last year — slow it down, play zone.”

The Blazers aren’t that kind of careful, clock-watching team anymore. They run out of the locker room and don’t stop. They run off makes, run off misses. And while it’s to Kutztown’s credit that Daniel Boone didn’t run the Cougars out of the gym, it’s also to the Blazers’ credit that they complemented their up-tempo game by patiently finding creases in the Kutztown zone.

Daniel Boone’s Chaunce Johnson shoots over Kutztown’s Lorencz Jean-Baptiste during Friday’s game. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

The combination of transition points and half-court execution resulted in a 24-point third quarter for the Blazers.

“Once we regrouped at halftime, we figured out the zone and how to break it,” Okuniewski said.

From a 17-10 first-quarter deficit, Kutztown (2-4) trimmed it to 23-18. Two quick inside buckets by Ian Rathgeb and a fast-break conversion by sophomore Chaunce Johnson (12 points) jacked the Blazer lead back to 13 quickly in the third quarter.

Daniel Boone’s Ian Rathgeb drives to the basket in-between to Kutztown defenders during Friday’s game. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

Kutztown made one more run, with sophomore guard Lorencz Jean-Baptiste (13 points) keying a 9-2 spurt to bring the Cougars within six. The Blazers, though, answered with an impressive 14-2 explosion to the third-quarter horn, capped by Okuniewski’s 3-pointer to make it 47-29.

With a 4-2 record now, the Blazers have already in December won more games than they did in the past two years combined (3-41). Coach Ian Gendreau sees experience and persistence starting to pay off. His team is led by three seniors who began starting as sophomores — Okuniewski, Rathgeb and Ty Dorang. None of the Blazers enjoyed a big summer growth spurt — their tallest player is 6-1 — but they are definitely showing growth as a unit.

“No one has seen what we’ve been doing in practice, and it’s nice to see the results,” Okuniewski said. “The experience helps a lot. We’ve learned from mistakes. We learned a lot more playing against older guys when we were sophomores and juniors.”

“Experience definitely has helped,” Gendreau said. “They’re a hard-working group of kids, a nice group of kids, and they like playing together. I don’t have to talk them into chemistry.”

Nor does he have to talk them into up-tempo ball. What kid today doesn’t want to play fast?

Daniel Boone’s Chaunce Johnson (1) looks to pass around the defense of Kutztown’s Dane Fegely. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

“Now that we’re pushing (the ball), we’re kind of getting back to the way we can play,” said Okuniewski, who started at wide receiver for Boone this past fall. “We’re all multi-sport athletes, so to get out there and run is suiting us better.”

NOTES >> Kutztown has just one senior, but many players are getting valuable minutes. Coach Pete Sovia noted Daniel Boone’s senior impact (five in all) but added of his club: “Our kids played hard, I’m proud of them. We never quit and we never will. We gave up 54 points, which isn’t a whole lot to give up. We’re struggling a bit on the offensive end.” … The Blazers’ press and traps hurt Kutztown on occasion. “That helped us when we were struggling against their zone,” Gendreau said. “We said let’s get to the hoop.” … Okuniewski was named his team’s MVP for the game; Jean-Baptiste took the honor for Kutztown … Sophomore Jared Tranovich, senior Kyle Stroble and Okuniewski were the scoring contributors to the Blazers’ decisive 14-2 run.

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