Russia played their favorite style of ball — fast and furious — to sink the Miami East Vikings 65-44. The Raiders came out red hot from 3-point land, then made a living off of fast break points.
By Alan Brads for Press Pros
Every great team needs a hustle player.
Russia has eight of ‘em.
No one wants to play against a defense like Russia’s, and not just because they’re skilled. They’re obnoxious, constantly up in your grill. And they’re brutally unforgiving. If you make a mistake, expose the basketball for even a split second, it’s a steal and a layup going the other way every single time.
Russia (14-0) had Miami East’s offense locked in the brig all night, not giving an inch to any offensive player, regardless of which one had the ball at any given moment. And that goes for all 94 feet of the court.
It’s organized chaos, like a dance that only they know involving perfectly timed traps in every area of the court. But it’s an ugly, gritty dance that involves a lot more diving on the floor than anything you’ll see at prom.
“Playing chaotic basketball is indescribably fun,” senior forward Felix Francis said. “We’re running around almost like we have our heads cut off, but we do it efficiently.”
Most teams would love to apply 32 minutes of pressure like Russia does, but Russia isn’t conditioned like most teams. There’s not a slow player in their 8-man rotation, and they always gain the fatigue advantage as the game progresses. If Russia loses a game this year – and that’s if, not when – it won’t be because someone outran them.
They’re not just fast either, they’re twitchy and quick. Most of their guards could pursue careers as sleight of hand magicians, they’ve got the opportunistic fingers for it.
From the get go the Vikings’ ship looked poised to sink, as Russia knocked down 4 threes, and scored six points in transition to bound to a 25-12 lead at the end of the first.
“Seeing those shots go in for us early was big,” junior guard Benjamin York said. “We’ve been struggling from three especially, but Jaxon [Grogean] who was shooting the lights out.”
York finished the night with a team leading 15 points, and Grogean scored 10, eight of which came in the first quarter. Braylon Cordonnier and Brayden Monnin both also found their way into double digits on the night.
Both highlights of the evening came in the first quarter. First Felix Francis flushed a dunk in transition, then after a Miami East timeout Hayden Quinter poked a ball free, and connected with Grogean on a slick behind-the-back bounce pass to convert the 2-on-1.
Where everything was working offensively in the first quarter, it froze to a stop in the second. Miami East found their footing in ball handling and slowed down their offense that Russia had previously pushed to play a million miles an hour. But
A more stringent man defense for the Vikings put a stopper in the 3-point bottle the Raiders poured out on them in the first, and held Russia to just seven points in the second quarter.
“We were trying to get some matchups,” Russia Head Coach Spencer Cordonnier said. “We knew [Jacob] Roeth had three fouls, and sometimes when you do that guys tend to stand around, and that’s kinda what happened. I knew if we continued to guard then we could afford to do that.”
The third quarter brought more havoc – steals, loose balls, and now blocks. Felix Francis swatted one into the first row, and got a second on the same possession.
“We knew Roeth was a big factor scoring double digits per game,” Francis said. “So coach said we were just gonna run people at him and get the ball out of his hands, and we ended up getting our hands on a lot of those balls and get some buckets.”
Roeth finished with a game-leading 19 points.
The lead casually stretched to 22 late in the third, and a quiet fourth quarter finished in the 65-44 Raider win.
We knew coming over here it wasn’t gonna be easy, and it was gonna be a 32-minute fight,” Cordonnier said. “That’s exactly what we want this time of year.”
This marks win number 14 for Russia (14-0), and as the more old-fashioned among us start thinking about ripping January off the wall calendar, we have to wonder where – or if – this run ends.
Of their eight remaining games, five are against opponents they’ve already beaten – not that history guarantees the future, but it certainly can make predictions.
Houston, Fairlawn and Fort Loramie they blew out. Anna they also beat handily, but Botkins gave them the closest scare of the year.
Circle your February 9 on your calendar for that one, potentially with the SCAL title on the line.
Versailles, Ansonia and Marion Local make up the other three games that lie between Russia and regular season perfection.
Ansonia likely won’t pose much of a threat, and enough common opponents between the SCAL and the MAC tell the tale that Russia will be heavy favorites against both Versailles and Marion Local – though again, crazier things have happened.
As York said about the possibility of a perfect season, “You gotta take it one game at a time. Everyone’s giving us their best shot.”
That’s the curse of being undefeated, but that’s a pretty darn good problem to have.
Looking eight games ahead is some pretty heavy duty conjecture, but the road to perfection isn’t as winded and twisting as it could be, and with less than a month left in the season it’s on all, or at least most, of our minds.
“These kids really have accepted one game at a time,” Cordonnier said. “Tomorrow we’ll start getting ready for Houston. That’s really what they’re about. Are the kids thinking about it? Maybe, I really am not.”
Even if they are, who can blame them?
“We’re starting to think that way a little bit,” Francis said. “But we’re really just focused on one game at a time right now, that’s it.”
Optimistic for the future, and focused on the present – both can be true.