Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

February 9, 2013

Cavaliers hang on against New Life

PRINCETON — Jo Jo Janning, the only senior basketball player at Mercer Christian Academy, had been told there would be a recognition of that milestone at the school on Friday night.

He didn’t expect a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself in the front hallway of the school.

Once that encounter, and a pre-game ceremony were done, he expected a tough game against New Life Christian from Nicholas County, and that’s what Mercer Christian got.

The homestanding Cavaliers held off the visiting Christian Lions in an exciting fourth quarter to take a 54-48 win, wearing their black uniforms on “Blackout Night” in the MCA gym.

“We were fortunate to win it,” said coach Darrell Presley. “It was a defensive effort on both sides. Our kids played hard, and I was proud of them.”

In a four-minute span of the first quarter, New Life (6-7) drained four three-pointers to push in front 13-6, then did not score again for five minutes, going eight possessions without getting a shot off.

During the second quarter, the Cavaliers scored 17 points but allowed 18 points, eight of them by Zack Walker. The Lions took a 31-25 lead into halftime.

Mercer Christian (11-7) clamped down in the third stanza, outscoring their guests 14-1 to go ahead for good. New Life was 0-for-12 from the field and 1-for-4 at the free throw line in that period.

Presley said, “We came out with a little defense, a half-court trap defense that we’d worked on. We really hadn’t used it in a game tonight. I was proud of them, they executed it well.”

New Life coach Jason Eades said, “I think our offense stalled. A big part was, we stopped going to the rim — and they (Mercer Christian) played some D (defense) in that quarter.”

Caleb Janning said, “We really stepped it up in the second half. We just all got pumped up — the fans pumped us up, our teammates on the bench, the coaches all helped.”

Twice in the final quarter, the Lions were able to pull within a single point, the last time on a transition layup by Walker with 4:41 remaining to create a 45-44 score.

Samuel Stephens gave the Cavaliers some breathing room with his only score of the night, another layup in transition.

From that point on, MCA went 7-for-12 at the foul line to wrap up their point production, and snagged six steals on defense — three by J.J. Easter and one each by Caleb Janning, Chandler Scott and Kenny Shrewsberry.

Lions coach Eades said, “In the fourth quarter, they didn’t listen. If they had, it might have been a different outcome.”

In the face of the pressure of a close game, the Cavaliers showed discipline, sticking to their offensive formation — which is still rather new to them.

Presley said, “We work on that a lot. We work on spacing, timing cutting, filling in the gap where the guy left on the cut. That’s a lot of our offense.”

Presley took over the reins of the team about a month ago when coach David Lambert had to take a leave of absence for family reasons.

“They’re catching onto it,” Presley said about his schemes. “These guys have had to learn a totally new system with what we do, and they’ve adapted well.”

Caleb Janning, Jo Jo’s younger brother, led the Cavaliers with 21 points, going 7 for 13 in free throws. Easter followed with 16 points.

Jo Jo Janning finished with four points but contributed in many ways away from the ball.

Presley said, “He rebounded; he had weak-side help on the defense. He had great footwork. He communicated. And he came up with some big rebounds when we needed it.”

Walker had 13 points at halftime for New Life and finished the day with 21.

Presley said, “That No. 10, he’s a great player.”

The MCA boys host Rainelle Christian today at noon in Princeton, and play Appalachian Christian on Monday.

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