Like every other Great Crossing High School team making its debut in this school year of new surroundings, new experiences, new everything, boys' basketball battled the butterflies in its initial exhibition game Tuesday night.
From the second quarter forward, the Warhawks showcased some of the talent and explosiveness that could make them more than a sleeper from the get-go, christening the home gym with a 79-54 win over Carroll County.
“We had a slow start, particularly on offense. It was 10-10 after the first quarter,” GC coach Steve Page said. “It was our first exhibition game, and even though most of the kids had played together at the other school, to put on the Great Crossing uniform and play in the new gym against another school for the first time, of course there probably were some jitters. Overall we did a lot of good things. I was pleased with the effort.”
Michael McKenzie gave Great Crossing a lift at both ends of the court with 21 points and six steals. Likewise, senior classmate and 6-foot-8 center Jaylen Barber was an all-around menace with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
K.J. Tucker also had 15 points and three thefts for the Warhawks, who forced the Panthers into 21 turnovers while committing only 10 of their own.
“I've told the kids we have quite a few people capable of scoring 15 or 20 points in a game,” Page said. “Tonight it was Michael, but another night it could be someone completely different.”
Great Crossing ripped open a 37-27 halftime lead and had no trouble stretching it against Carroll County, an 8th Region club that returned its top two players from a 12-13 season a year ago.
Senior point guard Wyatt Supplee settled for a team-high 20 points, nearly four beneath his average last winter. Supplee shot 7-for-11 from the field and 6-of-9 from the free-throw line, but GC harassed him into six turnovers.
“Their point guard was by far their best player,” Page said. “Most of their offense was they would hit the wing and he would cut, so they didn't shoot a lot of threes. He was definitely the focal point of our defense.
Carroll County was a modest 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, while Great Crossing launched 22 and sank five.
Keishaun Mumphrey finished with 12 points for the Panthers, also lower than his average production as a sophomore in 2018-19.
Barber was a key to patrolling the paint when Carroll County was able to break free for a quality look.
“Defensively he just did a really good job just challenging,” Page said of the big man. “Four blocks, and there were probably three or four more other shots that he altered. Jaden Hall had six rebounds, and they're mostly subbing in for each other, so that was basically 17 out of the same position.”
Their efforts vaulted Great Crossing to a double-digit advantage on the glass, 41-31. Eight of those belonged to Barber on the offensive end.
“Jaylen had eight rebounds in eight minutes in the first half and three in seven minutes in the second, and I didn't think there was any less effort,” Page said. “I kidded him that a couple of times he missed a layup, got his own rebound and put it back, so that pads it a little bit.”
Page cited two areas for improvement: Passing and shot selection.
The two went hand-in-hand. GC garnered only seven assists on its 33 made field goals and sometimes settled for the first outside shot that presented itself.
Great Crossing hit 33 for 76 (43.4 percent) overall.
“I thought we shared the ball better at Warhawk Madness. Of course in a real game against another opponent it's going to be a different mindset,” Page said. “We took some shots we probably should have passed up, and we had our share of run-outs for layups where you're probably not going to have an assist, so that factors into it some.”
Tye Schureman (nine points) and Neil Baker (six) figure to be two of the Warhawks' primary perimeter threats. They went a combined 6-for-24.
“Our shooters are better than that. Tye, for instance, took 14 shots off the bench and made three. He's a good shooter for the most part. We trust him to take those,” Page said. “Neil picked up two quick fouls and played only 17, 18 minutes. He will usually play a lot more than that.”
Schureman and McKenzie each drained a pair of threes for Great Crossing, whose winning margin of 25 was its largest lead of the game. GC had a 12-0 run to counter a 10-0 Carroll uprising and check out.
George Rogers Clark, a perennial contender from the 10th Region, will provide a different level of challenge when it drops in for a noon Saturday tip-off.
“If you look at the preseason rankings, which of course don't mean anything, yes, they should be a step up in competition,” Page said. “That's the reason I scheduled them over the summer. I wanted to challenge the kids before I even knew who I had for kids. They played Scott County this summer when a lot of these kids were still over there, and it was a close game right down to the end, so that kind of shows you how it will be.
“They're one of those programs where they graduated a lot, but they still return a lot. I'll be anxious to see how we step up to the challenge.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.