Patience on offense, suffocating defense serving Southeastern well at Macomb

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Southeastern's Danny Stephens prepares to make a move to the basket while being guarded by Macomb's Langdon Allen during Wednesday night's quarterfinal game at the Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament in Western Hall. | David Adam

MACOMB, Ill. — Al Davis would have been proud.

Most of the players on the Southeastern boys basketball team likely have never heard of the former owner of the NFL’s Oakland/Los Angeles (now Las Vegas) Raiders, but their “Just win, baby” mentality showed Wednesday night in a 30-27 victory over Macomb in the quarterfinals of the 76th annual Macomb-Western Holiday Tournament in Western Hall. 

While all-stater Danny Stephens certainly gets plenty of attention for his scoring efforts, many fans aren’t enamored with Southeastern’s patient offense. People clamoring for the shot clock in Illinois high school basketball would be quick to note the Suns had five possessions on Wednesday lasting at least 44 seconds.

Southeastern’s suffocating defense doesn’t lead to great highlights for the local television broadcasts, either. Macomb missed 24 out of 34 shots and scored a season-low against the Suns, who have allowed 56 points in 48 minutes of holiday basketball.

It ain’t pretty, but the Suns just keep winning.

“They’re just doing a lot of the things I ask,” Suns coach Brett Ufkes said. “We’re helping the person guarding the ball. We’re faking and fading into bluffing, sealing up gaps, rotating when we’re scrambling. We talk all the time about helping the helper, and I thought we did a really good job tonight of not giving them good looks when somebody had to help.

“That’s something that we pride ourselves on. I’ve been harping on it for years. Tonight’s the best job we’ve done on that, and we needed it to get that win.”

Southeastern (12-0), ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 1A state poll and the No. 2 seed in Macomb, will play in Friday’s semifinals against defending champion Eureka, which defeated Farmington 57-44 on Wednesday.

If you thought the final score was ugly, you would have hated the first half. The teams combined for seven baskets in the first two quarters as Southeastern led 10-9 at intermission.

Stephens, who finished with 21 points, scored nine points in an 11-3 run to open the third quarter to put the Suns ahead 21-12.

Connor Watson sandwiched baskets after steals around a 3-pointer by Jack Duncan to help the Bombers get within 23-22 with 5:19 left to play, but Stephens found Mason Fry for a layup — his only basket of the game — to quiet the homecourt crowd.

“You’ve just got to be ready,” Fry said. “In games like this, the ball is going to find you eventually, and you just can’t be scared. You can’t be afraid of the shot.”

Said Ufkes, “We’re playing a lot of young guys who have to learn how to harness the moment and be successful in it.”

Macomb climbed to within 27-25 after a layup by J.T. Jeter with 4:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Stephens was the facilitator again, feeding Aiden Akers for a fast-break layup — his only basket of the game — with 2:10 to go.

Watson made a layup after picking Stephens’ pocket with 1:48 to play, and after Akers missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Macomb had a chance to tie or take the lead. However, the Bombers took 1:22 off the clock before Watson missed a 3-pointer. Nolan Kerr snared the offensive rebound, and Macomb took a timeout with 21 seconds left.

The ensuing possession ended with a missed layup attempt by Watson. Akers made 1 of 2 free throws with eight seconds left, and after calling timeout in the frontcourt with 1.8 seconds to play, Macomb’s attempt to tie the score failed when Watson missed a 3-pointer.

Asked for the secret to Southeastern’s defensive success, Fry said, “It’s just lots of rotate calls and just a lot of talking. It’s all about communication.”

“Southeastern guards really well,” Bombers coach Jeremy Anderson said. “They get up and pressure the ball, they deny passing lanes and they switch all the screens. They really clogged the middle, and it makes your guys to have to make second and third reads. In the meantime, there’s a guy right on your ballhandler, so it makes it really tough. Give them a lot of credit.”

Anderson was pleased with his team’s defensive effort as well. The Bombers employed a box and one, with Langdon Allen, Jeter and Watson all taking turns at guarding Stephens.

“I thought it was a unique challenge,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult, because he’s going rise up and make shots, no matter how you’re guarding. You’ve got to try to limit where he catches the ball and get early help. We put all that in this morning, and I was really proud of the way our boys executed that gameplan.”

Ufkes says his team feeds off Stephens’ unselfishness and cool.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” he said. “You see kids try to mess with him or try to get in his head, but he just always keeps the same demeanor. That’s something the rest of the team feed on. I mean, I’m a little high-strung (on the bench), but Danny calms us down. We talk all the time about a basketball offense is about creating two on ones, and he gives us that when he catches the ball because he demands a double team.”

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