Bulldogs strike early, take down Hillcrest
Only five years had passed, not the clichéd seven, but that didn’t lessen the urge to scratch the itch.
And that’s what Richards was able to do Friday night at D-Wade Court. Squaring off against perennial south suburban power Hillcrest in the South Suburban Conference opener for both schools, the Bulldogs showed that their Thanksgiving-week romp past four foes at the District 218 Tournament was no fluke.
They did so by shaking off the negative effects of both an uninspired week of practice and the Hawks’ 7-2 start to the contest. Once Richards moved ahead in the first quarter, it stayed there the rest of the evening, albeit with occasional Hillcrest threats thrown into the mix.
A series of free throws by returning football players Dedrick Shannon and Spencer Tears in the last half-minute finally slammed the door on the Hawks for good and sealed the deal on an 80-72 Bulldogs victory, their first over Hillcrest since January of 2009.
The win also allowed Richards to begin a season with five consecutive triumphs for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s very nice and somewhat surprising,” Bulldogs coach John Chappetto said of his squad’s impressive start to the current season. “[The Hawks] have continued to win over a long stretch, and they’re always someone we want to measure ourselves against. We always have the utmost respect for them — they play real hard, without a lot of Hollywood, and they seem to play with class.”
Admiration for his opponent aside, Chappetto tried to ready his athletes for a grueling battle during last week’s practice sessions, something he felt didn’t always go as well as planned. Chappetto admitted possessing a degree of orneriness, knowing what kind of obstacles Hillcrest would present to Richards (5-0, 1-0).
“It’s really difficult to emulate what they’re going to do,” he said of the Hawks. “They’re athletic and long and they switch defenses [often], so that game’s really hard to prepare for.
“The week of practice wasn’t really what we wanted, and [some] guys that played well in the tournament were the ones [not practicing the same way]. They don’t understand we need them so much to be competitive at practice to get [personnel] depth.”
Whatever shortcomings had been evident earlier, though, soon disappeared on game night. Baskets by Josh Meier and Thaer Othman gave the Bulldogs a boost by kick-starting a 9-0 run, and the hosts exited the initial stanza up by three at 16-13.
Meier, who tossed in 10 points in the first eight minutes, added another 10 in the second period, which helped compensate for Shannon’s missing-person status. Two fouls in the game’s first few minutes kept the junior guard chained to the bench for much of the opening half of his season debut.
Shannon, Tears and two other Richards players were members of the Bulldogs football squad that played for a Class 6A title two days after Thanksgiving. Thus, none of them had picked up a basketball prior to last week.
Nevertheless, with Meier and Angelo Anagnostopolous (3-pointer, basket) leading the way, Richards outscored the Hawks again in the second frame and carried a 38-33 edge into intermission. The Bulldogs twice held double-digit leads before settling for the five-point halftime advantage.
“It helps matters, for sure, not having to chase them,” Chappetto said. “Whenever they cut the lead, we always seemed to have an answer.”
The margin grew again in the second half, as an unshackled Shannon dropped in 16 points during that span. A two-handed dunk highlighted his scoring, but Shannon also shone on the defensive end by limiting Hillcrest’s DeAngelo Isby (25 points) to just four points while guarding him man-to-man in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a very intelligent kid, an ‘A’ student, and we want to take it to another level with him,” Chappetto said of Shannon, who the coach asked for input as to what kind of defensive scheme Richards should employ after halftime. Shannon suggested a triangle-and-2, which the ‘Dogs did indeed use most of the way until the end.
“We gave up 72 points, but we had some stretches where we really played good defense against them,” Chappetto said. “What we have going right now is [several] guys stepping up.”
Meier (26 points), Shannon (20) and Othman (16) were the ‘Dogs’ main men on offense, but five other players also reached the scoring column.
While Chappetto was obviously pleased to see Richards vanquish a heavy hitter like Hillcrest, he claimed “the win makes my job a whole lot harder.”
“[Since] we beat Hillcrest, we should be able to beat anybody,” Chappetto said. “Me thinking that and the kids thinking that are two different things. I’m always going to be cautious of this because I know how hard it is [to take everybody else’s best shot].”
Bremen was Richards’ first post-Hillcrest foe, as it visited the Bulldogs this past Tuesday. Richards hosts TF South, a two-point winner over Evergreen Park last weekend, on Friday.
Hillcrest 13 20 16 23 - 72
Richards 16 22 18 24 - 80
Richards Scoring: Meier 26, Shannon 20, T. Othman 16, Anagnostopolous 5, Cottrell 5, Alexander 3, Tears 3, Catledge 2.