CHARLOTTE – Independence boys basketball coach Preston Davis has led the Patriots to a four-year run of at least 21 wins a year and the 2017-18 title.
His Patriots wanted to quickly find out where they stacked up after losing all five senior starters from last season’s 22-7 conference championship team.
In the opening week of the season, the Patriots played four games starting with North Meck, who throttled the new-look Patriots 79-55 in both teams opener on Nov. 19.
Two days later, the Patriots got past South Meck and snuck past Northside Christian 55-54 the following day behind 19 points from Anthony Allen and 17 from senior Nygell Verdier, who is among the area’s most improved players.
After falling by six points to unbeaten Davidson Day, the Patriots got a week off before taking on Concord First Assembly at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge on Nov. 30.
The Patriots led by two at halftime, but couldn’t hold on as they fell 68-64 to drop to 2-3 on the season.
“We just didn’t make enough tough plays,” Davis said following the loss. “I felt like a couple of times we could have taken some charges and I feel like there were times we didn’t get the rebounds that we could get.”
The Patriots held a 20-10 rebounding margin at the half but held just a 34-32 advantage on the glass at the end. That, combined with shooting 6-of-23 from 3-point range contributed to the latest loss.
But with the schedule Davis plays, a few losses to start the season is expected. As of Dec. 2, South Meck and Northside – the teams the Patriots have beaten – have combined to go 6-5 on the season while the three losses came against teams with a combined record of 20-1 on the season.
“Five out of our first seven games are against ranked teams in our area,” Davis said. “In our first 13 games, we only have two home games, so one thing is we’ll definitely be battle-tested. It doesn’t get any easier because we play Ardrey Kell (Dec. 3).”
The Patriots have had some bright spots, though.
Allen has taken over as the Patriots leader, and the sweet-shooting senior is averaging 15.6 points per game and has made 11-of-26 3-pointers so far.
Verdier averaged 2.6 points last season as a reserve but had thrived in the starting lineup this season and is contributing 13.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists per game while shooting 32% from deep.
Butler transfer Jalen Hinton (8.4 points per game) and holdovers Omarion Bodrick (6.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per game) and De’Drick Givens (5.8 points, 6.2 rebounds) have provided much of the scoring punch this season.
One potential problem for the Patriots could be 3-point shooting. Outside of Hinton, Allen and Verdier, the team has made just 1-of-14 3-pointers. Independence can offset that with size and rebounding with Bodrick and Givens inside.
Still, with the Patriots’ up-tempo style on both sides of the floor, they are going to give teams fits this year as they look to claim their third straight Southwestern 4A title.
“We’re not far off, we just need to grow up a little bit still,” Davis said. “We have some gelling that we still need to do, but it’s tough when you feel like you’re so close and you let it slip away like we did (against First Assembly).”
But Davis knows the tough schedule should only help what should be a tough conference season to navigate with the Patriots, Butler, Rocky River and Myers Park all talented.
“We’ll be fine, I think, we just need to get tougher and clean some of this up,” Davis said. “We’ve played a lot of basketball and we’ve played quality competition along the way so far, so I hope it helps us in the long run.”