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With only a few practices under their belt since being joined by their football players, the Empire boys’ basketball team is still working on getting rhythm, chemistry and timing.
Grit, however, doesn’t appear to be a problem.
Clinging to a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs held Geronimo at bay the entire final period, claiming their season-opener over the Blue Jays, 38-33 on Friday.
“I thought we played well considering we’ve only had our whole team together for a few games,” Empire coach Ryan Green said. “Defensively we had great effort. Offensively we haven’t figured everything out yet.”
The Bulldogs held Geronimo scoreless the first 2 minutes of the fourth quarter, while pushing their lead to 30-25. With 2 minutes left, the Blue Jays had made it a one-score game (34-31) before Empire made 4-of-6 free throws, going 2-for-2 on the front end of bonus attempts, to seal the victory.
“My guards really stepped up and handled the ball well,” Green said of his teams play late in the fourth quarter.
Midway through the third quarter the Blue Jays took the lead for the first and only time on a 3-pointer to go up 25-24. Senior point guard Cordell setters put Empire back in the lead with a pair of free throws and Empire turned up the intensity on defense with a full-court press. Geronimo went nearly 6 minutes without a bucket.
“With our depth, I thought we could press them and force some turnovers,” Green said. “We mixed it up the whole game. We pressured them at the start and then backed off and then picked it back up late, so we kind of threw everything at them.”
Setters, who missed much of his junior season due to injury, led the Bulldogs with 12 points, four rebounds and three steals, while senior guard Drew Ferguson had nine points, six rebounds and three steals. Sophomore Braden Hill added nine points, and senior forward Corbin Henderson chipped in with six points, six rebounds and a steal.
“With those football players just coming back, we’ve got a ways to go,” Green said. “I think Thanksgiving break will give us some time to get ready.”