Jared Rhoden was Baldwin’s sixth man last season, a slender sophomore who specialized in three-point shooting. He’s still got range, but now he’s got a lot more game.
Rhoden displayed his ever-improving skill set with a flashy 28-point performance and Shane Gatling added 18 to lead Baldwin to a 78-54 victory over Central Islip Saturday in the third game of the Nassau-Suffolk Challenge played at Uniondale.
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“Individuals get better in the offseason; teams get better during the season,” Baldwin coach Darius Burton said after his Bruins improved to 10-2. “I knew what I had with Jared last year. He got bigger, better and stronger.”
Rhoden grew two inches to 6-6, added some muscle and, most of all, expanded his game. The athletic small forward made four three-pointers, which is nothing new. But he also scored from the wing, the baseline, the lane and the rim.
“Over the summer, I worked hard on my game, especially putting it on the floor,” Rhoden said. “I pushed a lot of weights. It’s my junior year. I wanted to prove myself.”
Rhoden has done that, joining with Gatling, a senior guard, to form one of the best scoring duos on Long Island. Gatling made four threes Saturday and once again led the Bruins’ aggressive, trapping defense that broke it open early against the Musketeers (7-4).
Rhoden scored seven points and Gatling five during a 20-2 first-quarter burst that produced a 25-9 advantage. That was too steep of an uphill climb for Central Islip, despite 20 points from Justin Headley.
“Every game we go on one of our runs,” Burton said. “But we’re still working on being more consistent, defensively. Our best offense comes from our defense.”
Rhoden is helping there, too. “We get rewarded for holding teams under 55 points and we work really hard on defense every day in practice,” Rhoden said. “It’s really high tempo. Defense leads to offense and then everything starts rolling.”
Burton said Rhoden is an effective defender “because of his long arms. He’s great on deflections. He creates a mismatch at the ‘three.’ He starting to dominate at that position.”
When Central Islip made some noise late in the third quarter to trim a 22-point deficit to 16, Rhoden took control. He started the fourth quarter with a lefty layup, added a deep three and then made a steal and punctuation-mark, one-handed slam.
Summer drills; winter thrills.