When the season started McCallie basketball coach Dan Wadley knew the Blue Tornado didn’t have the same 3-point firepower they had a year ago.
So, the veteran Wadley installed a new offensive system that fit his current personnel – players who could penetrate for high-percentage shots or possessed the passing skills to set up other players for short-range target practice.
The Blue Tornado’s new motion offense ran three-time defending state Division II-AA state champion Ensworth dizzy Saturday night.
McCallie, which routinely attempted 15 to 18 3-point attempts per game in 2012-13, put up only six against Ensworth, deciding instead to rely heavily on layups to post a 71-59 victory at the McCallie Sports Complex and snap the Tigers’ five-game winning streak.
“In basketball, a lot of people just think shoot, shoot, shoot,” said sophomore JaVaughn Craig, who led the Blue Tornado (6-9, 1-0 Division II-AA East/Middle Region) with a game-high 29 points. “It took a while for the guys to buy into what he was saying, but when we got it we knew it would actually work.”
The Tornado dazzled the Tigers (6-8, 1-1) with goals at the rim. Eighteen of McCallie’s 21 field goals came on layups. The Tornado went 4-for-6 on 3-point attempts and 17-for-28 (60.7 percent) from the free-throw line – Craig and Thomas combined to go 11-of 13 from the stripe.
“We’re not a great 3-point shooting team,” Wadley said. “We looked at our personnel and decided on a different type offense. It’s working pretty good.”
Ensworth, which also won a state title in 2009 and went a combined 105-17 in its four championship seasons, got a 3-pointer by Nick Rolfe and a bucket at the buzzer by D’Andre Ferby to trail 16-13 after one quarter of play.
McCallie took control of the game with a 17-5 run that produced a 33-18 lead with 2:09 left in the first half. In that game-changing spurt the Blue Tornado penetrated the Ensworth defense for six layups – three by sophomore Adrian Thomas.
Craig, who scored a career-high 42 points against Brentwood Academy last season, hit one of his three 3s in the pivotal spurt.
“(Craig) is a really good player and (Thomas) did a good job for them, too,” Ensworth coach Rick Bowers said. “And (C.J. Fritz) created a lot of points for them. We’re just not very good right now and McCallie is a pretty good team.
“A lot of their offense was due to our bad offense. We turned the ball over, we took shots we shouldn’t have been taking and that’s all because we’re not sharp right now.”
McCallie went into halftime with a 33-19 lead and stretched the margin to 40-21 early in the third period on – you guessed it – three consecutive layups by Winston Whitener, Jordan Atkins and Craig.
Later, Craig and Andrew Fleming, who led the Tigers with 17 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, exchanged 3-pointers and the Blue Tornado was up 43-30. McCallie was up 49-34 when the third quarter ended.
The Tigers whittled the McCallie lead to 56-46 on Fleming’s reverse layup at the 4:44 mark of the fourth quarter.
Craig converted a three-point play and the Tigers continued missing free throws that allowed the Blue Tornado to again stretch the lead to 61-47 when Craig hit a reverse layup with 3:05 left.
“I think that may be the worst free-throw shooting in the history of high school basketball,” Bowers said. “I’m serious. At one point we were 1 of 10. That’s not very good. That’s a FREE throw.”
Ensworth went 11 of 29 from the charity stripe (37.9 percent). The Tigers were 1 of 8 in the first half and improved to 10 of 21 in the second half.
“That’s not the way to win games,” Bowers said.
McCallie shot more consistently than the Tigers throughout the game.
“I thought for the first time all year we played hard for four quarters,” Wadley said. “We didn’t take time off. Our tough schedule is starting to pay off. We don’t want region and tournament games to be out toughest games.”
Thomas finished with 17 points for the Blue Tornado.
For the Tigers, Ferby and Jordan Bone each scored 11 points.
Ensworth 13 6 15 25 – 59
McCallie 16 17 16 22 – 71
Ensworth (59) – Starling, Jordan Bone 11, Settles, Estes, Zoges, Barnett, Rolfe 5, McGraw 7, Cambridge 2, Bright, Andrew Fleming 17, Owens, Stigell 6, D’Andre Ferby 11, Mayer.
McCallie (71) – Fritz 7, Moxey, JaVaughn Craig 29, Adrian Thomas 17, Whitener 9, Alford 4, Baird, Clark 1, Atkins 4, Walker.
3-Point Goals: Ensworth 8 (Bone 3, Fleming 2, Stigell 2, Rolfe); McCallie 4 (Craig 3, Atkins).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)