January 11, 2012 - The Lake Orion boys' basketball team may have lost to Clarkston Jan. 3, but its performance seemed to shock the Wolves' crowd, players and coaches.
Senior Justin Walukonis evades Clarkston’s defense to set up a pass to one of the inside players. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
In the 58-40 game, the Dragons started slow but managed to cut the traditionally state-ranked Wolves' lead to 10 points.
"The first quarter basically put us in a hole we couldn't get out of," said Head Coach Tom Risi. "But their margin of victory is usually around 40 points a game and I think they were a little bit shocked at us. We played a strong defensive game and stepped up in the second half especially.
"Heading into (OAA White) conference play I think it's safe to say we're getting better every game. "Winning is important, but this is a marathon, not a sprint."
Point guard Damonte Kruse played well and handled the ball pressure better than would be expected from a junior, according to Risi. Senior Brad Watterworth, the tallest player on the court, used his height to receive passes and simply dump the ball into basket, scoring 14 points. Sophomore John McCarty, added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Risi said Watterworth, in particular, was getting "significantly better" each week and that the 6'8" center is in a position to "take over games."
Orion's outside shooting continued to be a weakness, however, with only one three-point basket. Overall, the team went 17-42 from the floor.
Clarkston Head Coach Dan Fife complimented Risi and Lake Orion after the game, remarking on how well Risi has done given his small amount of time with the team. He added that the Dragons' size inside and aggressive play forced Clarkston to play into the visiting team's style of play.
Lake Orion played again on Jan. 6, against the "improved" Royal Oak Ravens who also featured a new coach, and came away with a 65-45 victory.
Risi said the game marked a high point for Lake Orion's defensive play. In particular, he complimented junior Roman Kuster's effort. The head coach also noted the team's balanced scoring attack, featuring senior Justin Walukonis' 15 points, junior Chaz Miller's 16 points, Watterworth's 11 points and McCarty's nine points against the Ravens.
Risi added Kruse ran his best offense of the season and continues to improve.
"It was a team effort, and everyone played great," said Risi. "They had a player that was averaging 26 points a game and we held him to six. Between their two top guys and the rest of them, (Royal Oak) was averaging 66 points a game. Our gameplan plan was to partially shut down those two top guys."
The coach pointed out Lake Orion controlled the boards and played aggressive man-to-man defense. The Ravens struggled handling the Dragons' height, forcing them to go to a zone defense. This forced Lake Orion to shoot more from the outside, where the Dragons improved during the game.
In fact, nine of Walukonis' 15 points were from three three-point shots, which Risi was particularly pleased to see, he said. He believes that if Lake Orion's shooting can improve further, the team will be difficult to handle.
After last week's games, the Dragons were 4-2 on the season, with a game against Notre Dame Prep on Jan. 9. That team is similar to Lake Orion in height, with a 6'8", 6'6" and 6'5" players. He said because of this, Lake Orion's usual inside scoring may not be as effective, adding that he would be trying to switch back to scoring in transition.