Ed Azzam has won more than 800 games in his illustrious coaching career, seeing more than his share of talented players come and go.
The Westchester (Calif.) coach had the best seat in the house Monday to see another, his basketball team taking on 5-star prospect M.J. Walker and his Jonesboro (Ga.) teammates in the opening game of this year’s Beach Ball Classic at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Sure, Walker did more than his share of work, filling the bucket to the tune of 20 points. But one man wasn’t going to wreck the Comets’ plans for an extended stay in Myrtle Beach.
Receiving a balanced contribution, Westchester took care of business in its Beach Ball Classic opener, downing Jonesboro, 55-42.
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“Honestly, I feel our team is still on the plane,” Azzam said. “But we did what we needed to win (Monday). We didn’t necessarily change our game plan or try to let anyone else score, because that’s not how we play. But we were able to score enough early on to give us a good lead, and defensively we did enough to hold on at the end.”
Hailing from Los Angeles, the Comets arrived in town a mere 24 hours before Monday’s tourney opener. Jonesboro looked to be the team with jelly legs early on, however, finding itself down by as many as nine points in the game’s opening minutes.
“I don’t know what it was. There was no excuse for that effort out there,” said Jonesboro (Ga.) boys basketball coach Daniel Maehlman. “We just left down at the City of Palms Classic (in Florida). I don’t know if we left too much down there, or what it was. I just know we didn’t perform well enough to win this game.”
Some of that had to do with Westchester’s effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Aside from Walker, no other Jonesboro player scored from the field in the game’s first 14 minutes. Despite such futility, the Cardinals opened the second half still in striking distance, down by a mere eight points.
Foul trouble would limit Walker in the second half, and Westchester would take full advantage, extending its lead to 14 points with 3:37 to go. Marquis Moore was key in the Comets’ run, scoring 10 of his team-high 17 points in the final 16 minutes.
“I have to credit our defense and the way it played,” Azzam said. “That’s a real good player, a real good team we played today. He’s been scoring at will, and we limited him to 20 points. We wanted to put a big, solid defender in front of him and see what he could do with him, and we had Luis (Rodriguez) answer the bell. He was great for us today.”
Jonesboro made a late run to cut the deficit to eight points once again, but Westchester hit its free throws down the stretch to salt the game away.
Joining Moore in double figures were the Comets’ Rodriguez and Daryn Everage, with 11 each.
Knowing the opportunity his team had to make an impression, Maehlman’s disappointment in his team was written all over his face.
“Being from the south side of Atlanta, we’re used to schools from the northern end of town [getting] all of the attention,” the Jonesboro coach said. “This was a good opportunity for our team to show what we can do against top-caliber teams. But in many ways, our tournament came down to this opening game, and we just didn’t come out ready to play.”
JHS (42): Jaylon Terrell 5, Jamari Mosley 4, Brandon Walker 5, Ellis Wester 5, M.J. Walker 20, Timon Creighton 7, Alex Glass 1.
WES (55): Marquis Moore 17, Chris Simmons 7,Luis Rodriguez 11, Jordan Brinson 4, Darryn Everage 11, Jeremiah Turley 1, Maurice Tutt 4.
Halftime: WES 22-14. 3-pointers: JHS 3 (B. Walker, M.J. Walker, Creighton), WES 3 (Moore, Rodriguez, Everage). Total fouls: JHS 21, WES 14. Technical fouls: None.
Records: JHS 9-3, WES 10-4.