Dillard (Fla.) can be an intimidating team along its front line with 6-foot-8 and 6-9 juniors Robert Johnson and Joniya Gadson and 6-8 senior Raiquan Gray.
But it doesn’t have to be in order to be successful.
The defending Florida Class 6A state champion showed its versatility Tuesday night in its Beach Ball Classic opener, managing to dominate the inside against Father Henry Carr despite what for the Panthers would be considered a small lineup.
Dillard scored all but 10 of its points in the paint in a 68-60 win over the lone Canadian entry in the tournament at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Johnson and Gadson played just a combined 19 minutes Tuesday, with Johnson going 4-for-4 from the field for eight points.
Gray, who has signed with Florida State, had 14 points and 14 rebounds while hitting 7 of 10 shots from the field, while 6-6 senior Jordan Wright, who has committed to Kentucky in football, tallied a game-high 27 points and eight rebounds while hitting 11 of 18 shots.
“We have almost eight, nine or 10 guys we can start anytime. So we can go big, we can go small. We play both of those games,” Dillard coach Darryl Burrows said. “We go small with Wright and Gray closer to the basket.”
Henry Carr (11-6) pushed the pace throughout with a smaller lineup and forced 13 turnovers in the first half, after which it held a four-point lead. But Dillard (10-3) cut its turnovers to seven in the second half, allowing Henry Carr just five points off turnovers after surrendering 15 in the first half.
The Panthers were able to get many of their buckets in transition or in early offensive sets.
“We had a lot of turnovers that were uncalled for and missed a lot of wide open layups,” Wright said. “We were just dropping the ball. We had to slow down. We were trying to move too fast.”
Henry Carr ended the first half with a 9-2 run in the final 1:50 that included a pair of layups by Denier Campbell to take a four-point lead into halftime. The Crusaders extended the lead to 11 points by opening the second half with a 7-0 run that included 3-pointers by Shae Linton-Brown and John Akende, who scored a team-high 16 points.
Henry Carr still led by 10 points with 11 minutes to play following a Campbell layin.
But that’s when Dillard went on a 20-0 run to take command.
Gray had four consecutive baskets inside, including a tip-in, and a Wright put-back and two Wright free throws gave Dillard its first lead of the second half. Layups by Gray and Bryce Oliver, and two layups by Deshawn Bartley gave Dillard a 10-point lead and Henry Carr was unable to get closer than six points over the final four minutes.
Carr arrived in Myrtle Beach at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday following a 20-hour bus ride from the school campus in Ontario.
“I think we just ran out of gas. Maybe the 20-hour bus ride was a little bit difficult to handle,” Crusaders coach Paul Melnik said. “We’re not going to leave on Christmas Day. I’m not going to take my kids away from their families on Christmas Day. So we leave early on Boxing Day.”
Henry Carr went 3-1 last week in the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, but the team is without a few players this week because of injury and transfer rules in Canada that don’t allow first-year transfer players to participate in a high-school sanctioned tournament.
“That makes it tough to play at that high tempo when you’re only going to play about eight guys,” Melnik said. “I would have liked the pace a lot quicker. We like to keep the pace up because they’re big. If we let them move the ball and get the ball inside, they’re going to do damage. They scored most of their points inside the paint. We did a good job of turning them over and getting some easy buckets for ourselves. But we don’t have the size to match up with them.”