Staring down a resurgent Landon squad early in the second quarter, Episcopal senior forward Arnaud Adala-Moto noticed every Interstate Athletic Conference game would be a hard fought one.
After coming out strong against their conference rival in the first quarter — at one point enjoying an 11-point lead — the Maroon hit a wall. Landon surged back to tie up the game before going tit-for-tat with Episcopal.
“We were just trying to find our defense,” Adala-Moto said. “We didn’t expect them to play like that … They were pushing. They kind of jumped to the ball.”
Clawing for the ball, roughing up Episcopal’s point guards and disrupting the their transitions meant Landon, to that point, had seen more than a few turnovers go their way.
Adala-Moto, dominating the game offensively early on, had become a nonfactor and the Bears showed no signs of slowing when they had a chance at the net.
Though the 9-1 Maroon kept the score close, the 8-5 Bears landed a buzzerbeater at the end of the second quarter to give them a 35-34 lead against the No. 9 team in the region.
“I’ll give Landon a lot of credit — they closed the gap,” said coach Jim Fitzpatrick. “Once you get into a tight game, then there are enough good players [on any IAC team] to stay in the game.”
Fitzpatrick pointed to his team’s early struggles with rebounding and layups as key problems. With Landon unwilling to roll over and play dead the 9-1 Maroon returned to the court for the second half ready to get “back to basics,” the coach said.
“We played zone and slowed Landon’s surge,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our zone defense forced them to miss shots … The momentum changed.”
The turning point came a little more than four minutes into the third quarter. Junior guard Doug Chappell hit a three-point field goal to tie up the game. About 20 seconds later, Landon fouled senior guard Kethan Savage. He went one-for-two from the line but it was enough to secure a tentative lead.
Landon’s younger, smaller squad fought back again, but by then Adala-Moto had returned to his former self. He and Chappell dominated the court. They didn’t have a choice, Chappell said, with Savage still limited with a back injury.
“I definitely had to be more aggressive on offense,” he said, crediting Adala-Moto with the bulk of the glory. “With [Savage] hurt, we had to pick up the load of scoring.”
For his part, Adala-Moto credits the team’s defensive play for the turnaround. Once they got their legs back, the game went their way, he said.
The Maroon put together seven unanswered points and eventually extended their lead back to the double-digits en route to a 71-55 win. By the time Landon started fouling to halt Episcopal’s offensive production, the Maroon were too far gone to be caught.
Though the score belies the close fought victory, Fitzpatrick believes his players left home court a little more prepared for their next IAC matchup. It’s not going to be easy any night their facing a conference rival, he said. Episcopal, 2-0 in the IAC, has a target on its back.
“Lesson one: Every IAC game is going to be a battle,” he said. “I don’t care what league it is… when you’re playing in conference, every team wants to win and every game is a battle.”