This past Wednesday evening I went to Corinth to witness a key Class B boys basketball showdown as the Hermon Hawks came to town to take on the Central Red Devils. Hermon parlayed a dominant defensive effort into a decisive second half run for the 47-31 victory in the battle of top three teams.
The half hour drive home afforded me time to reflect on what I had just seen. My initial reaction was what an awesome display of defense this was. Make no mistake, they played outstanding defense on this night. Then I thought of the often quoted cliche: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships”.
Coaches love great defensive players and they should. Being a great defender requires one to have toughness and tenacity. Defensive stats are typically not touted in newspaper articles and shutting down an opponent is generally not shown on the nightly highlights. When beginning a new season what is generally the starting point of emphasis for most coaches? Defense.
So back to this aforementioned game. As I approached the Kenduskeag line headed towards Bangor I began to think some more. Scary, I know. Hermon, while an outstanding defensive team is also having a breakthrough season, one of their most successful under coach Mark Reed. His teams are always solid defensively, some years more than others, but to play for Coach Reed you must defend. By the way, I couldn’t help but be reminded of his father’s teams at Bangor, how by mid to late January they just locked their opponents down defensively.
So what has separated this team, and other contenders such as Orono, MDI, George Stevens in Class C, from the pretenders and also-rans? What differentiated the state championship Bangor teams from those who couldn’t quite go all the way? As good as these teams are and were defensively, they all have or had players who could put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis.
While defense is important in the championship winning formula, equally if not of more importance is offensive efficiency. Most if not all of us have witnessed strong defensive teams turning opponents turnovers into offense. Equally, if not more pronounced in games I see at the high school level, is bad offense transitioning into bad defense. Poor shot selection and turnovers are detrimental to a team’s defensive success. I’ve heard former coach Bob Knight say on more than one occasion a missed poor shot is the first pass to the opponent’s fast break. Want to be a better defensive team? Take good shots and take care of the ball at the offensive end.
Championship caliber teams must have a go-to player when games get tight. Class B girls is extremely balanced this year. Houlton has played in a number of tight contests as well this year but remain undefeated because they can get the ball in Kolleen Bouchard’s hands and she’ll likely make something happen. The same holds true for the George Stevens boys with Taylor Schildroth and Max Mattson. In D Southern Aroostook and Machias are at the top of the standings because they have prolific scorers leading their teams. MDI has multiple players you have to defend in trying to beat them. If you don’t have at least one of these players, you’ll likely not win a title no matter how good of defense you play.
While we certainly shouldn’t dismiss the notion of great defensive teams winning championships, let’s not kid ourselves. Championships are won not only with great defensive efforts but by skilled players who allow their teams to score the basketball. Perhaps we should put away the silly notion that “offense win games, defense wins championships”. Maybe we should realize that teams with great players, who play both ends of the floor well and together, win championships. .