After trailing by 10 late in the second quarter, the Wolfpack rallied for a tie by the end of the third quarter before applying their patented full-court pressure defense in the fourth, en route to a 65-51 win over St. Francis on Tuesday.
Whitefield (3-0, 2-0 Region 6A) hurried St. Francis’ shots, stepped into the passing lanes and forced turnovers right from the start of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 14-0 run that gave the Wolfpack a 54-42 margin with 4:40 left in the game.
Chris Steele sank a 3-pointer to trim the Knights’ deficit to nine, but they wouldn’t get closer.
Courtney Alexander, who scored 10 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 21 to go with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, made a layup that pushed the Wolfpack in front 60-47 with 3:23 on the clock. His dunk gave Whitefield its biggest lead of the game — 65-49 — with 1:20 remaining.
“I saw the good, the bad and the ugly from my team out there,” Whitefield coach Tyrone Johnson said. “The ugly was when it was like we were playing AAU basketball out there. The good was the way we fought and gave ourselves a chance to win.
“The pressure in the fourth quarter was our saving grace. We hadn’t defended well before that. We swapped baskets with them early and that’s not what we’re about, but we did defend the right way when the game was in balance and it worked out for us in the end.”
Brendon Myles added 12 points, four boards and three steals for Whitefield, while Berto Dryden contributed seven points, five assists and two steals. Eric Lockett, who scored six straight points on a dunk, putback and layup to start the fourth-quarter spurt, recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, along with three assists.
“We wanted to play (pressure defense) the whole game, but crunch time was when we really wanted to step on their throat and take their heart and make them not want to play anymore,” Lockett said. “I felt the full-court pressure was vital in getting us rolling, and we didn’t want to stop.”
The first quarter ended tied at 13-all. St. Francis (4-1, 1-1), last season’s state runner-up among the Class A private schools, took advantage of its height in the frontcourt and started the second period in a 2-3 zone that limited the Wolfpack’s aggressive play. It led to the Knights taking a 25-15 lead with 2:20 on the clock after McKinley Brown’s jumper.
After St. Francis point guard Kobi Simmons collected his third foul and went to the bench, Whitefield went to work in getting back in the contest. Freshman guard Isaiah Hart nailed a 3-pointer to spark a 10-0 run for the Wolfpack, capped by Dryden’s layup, which tied the game at 25-all before the Knights took a three-point lead at halftime.
Neither team held a margin greater than three points in third quarter.
Simmons fouled out with 3:06 left in the third, and it was only a matter of time for Whitefield to take advantage.
St. Francis attempted to use another zone in the fourth quarter, but Whitefield’s pressure won out resulting in the victory.
Malik Beasley had nine points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals for St. Francis. Brown totaled eight points, five assists and three steals, while Kaiser Gates — one of three Knights’ players 6-foot-8 or taller —had nine points, seven boards and three steals. Josh Coleman added nine points and six rebounds. Steele had eight points.
Whitefield outscored St. Francis 23-9 in the fourth quarter.
“Kobi is our primary ball-handler, and it hurt us when he wasn’t on the floor,” St. Francis coach Cabral Huff said of the four-star college recruit. “All the credit goes to Whitefield for their fourth quarter. We made some mistakes because of their pressure and didn’t execute the way we needed to. We handled their pressure all night up until that point.”