At least once a week, Rhyjon Blackwell’s day begins at 6:15 in the morning. Before the bell sounds to start school at Baldwin High, Blackwell and the team’s trusty shooting machine are working overtime. “I try to take 500 shots,” the slender 5-11 junior said.
Those takes in early-morning practice are turning into makes in games. Blackwell rang the bell for a career-best seven three-pointers and scored 26 points to lead host Baldwin to an 81-55 victory over Nassau AA-II rival Westbury Tuesday night.
Blackwell’s outside game helped open up the inside for Nasim Cylin, who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Bruins improved to 4-0. Jailyn Dunlap led Westbury (3-1) with 23 points and Isiah Ben Aise added 17.
“I wasn’t satisfied with my contributions last year,” said Blackwell, who saw only spot duty on the varsity as a sophomore. “I was determined to get better. I work on shots from all over the court — midrange, threes and floaters. I’m liking the results. The hard work is paying off.”
Blackwell nailed five threes in the first half that was a strange one for the Bruins. They scored only 10 points in the first quarter but their relentless defensive pressure kicked in for the second period when they scored 26 points to grab a 36-24 halftime lead. They blew it open against the defending Long Island Class AA champions with a 29-point third quarter.
A telling 20-second sequence occurred midway through the third. Blackwell hit his final trey of the game, from well beyond the arc, converted a steal into a layup and then made another steal, his fourth, and fed Cylin for his third three-pointer. Baldwin led 63-38 and coach Darius Burton pulled his starters for the rest of the game.
“When we switched to only one big man in the second quarter, we threw a lot more heat on them defensively,” Burton said. “For us, it always starts with the defense — get a stop, get a steal.”
Get an easy basket in transition. “We amped up the defense in the third quarter,” Cylin said. “If we lock them down on defense, we can have fun in the transition game.”
Marcus Jasmin joined the fun with eight rebounds and four blocks and Tre Riggins contributed eight rebounds, two blocks and six points.
Cylin, who said he grew from 6-2 last year to 6-4, has worked on his interior moves to complement his smooth perimeter game. “When I’ve got smaller defenders on me, I’ll attack the basket,” he said.
Or as Burton said, “I don’t want him always settling for jumpers.”
The coach has no qualms, however, about Blackwell settling in from downtown. “He can really shoot it,” Burton said. “He lives in the gym.”