Every game the number is different, depending on the opponent. But for Copiague, the number is always about one thing: defense.
“I like to set team goals before the game,” Copiague coach Steve Rebholz said. “But I don’t like to put a number on it.”
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His players, though, prefer something more tangible, and Tuesday night, they decided that 40 was the ceiling. “We wanted to hold them under 40 points,” point guard Myles Mills said.
Good call, guys.
Copiague used a ball-pressure defense complemented by a strong rebounding effort to easily defeat host Whitman, 54-34, in the Suffolk II opener for teams that had each won their two non-league games.
“Forty came from them,” Rebholz said. “But I did like their defense. Team-wise, we haven’t had a group this committed to defense for a couple of years. This team has intelligence to go along with athleticism. They understand their rotations and they trust each other. Team goals mean something to them.”
Mills, a senior in his first year as the starting point guard, scored 17 points and Andre Morgan, a senior who is the team’s only returning starter, added 16 for the Eagles. Matt Kleet led the Wildcats with 12.
Morgan set an early tone, converting a steal into a layup on the second possession of the game. He also showed his tenacity and leaping ability by making three offensive rebounds on a single sequence before drawing a foul. He made two free throws late in the first period and Mills got fouled after yet another steal and hit one of two to give Copiague a 15-4 lead after one.
Mills put the game away with a sparkling second quarter, scoring seven points, making two steals and adding two assists as Copiague built a 31-13 halftime advantage.
“I’m the quarterback on the floor and I have to be focused on my decision-making,” Mills said. “Defense is the big thing for us. It’s all about pressure and discipline.”
Copiague managed to hound the Whitman dribblers while still cutting off the passing lanes and the Wildcats were unable to get any closer than 11 points early in the second half.
Mills put the punctuation mark on an 11-0 run midway through the third quarter with a straightaway three-pointer. “He’s come a long way in a short time,” Rebholz said of last year’s backup point guard who didn’t get a lot of playing time. “We think our forwards are strong but we’ll go as far as our guards take us. Myles is leading our guards.”
And Morgan is leading the forwards, particularly on the offensive boards. “It’s the easy way to get some buckets,” he said with a grin.
The Eagles did the hard work, too. Which made that 40-point goal an easy target.