The Port Arthur News
It's Nederland's "Big Red" Colton Weisbrod vs. Ozen's 5-9 sharpshooter Jordan Hunter, with a berth in the Class 4A regional semifinals on the line.
Facing Ozen for the third time since Jan. 10, Brian English's defensive-minded Bulldogs are seeking their first win of the season against the Panthers after one and five-point setbacks in District 20-4A play.
Tip time is set for 7 p.m. at East Chamber's snazzy arena.
Asked about playing at East Chambers instead of, say, the Montagne Center, English said he wanted his kids to have every possible advantage in the regional quarterfinal matchup.
"Our kids haven't shot as well in the past in larger venues, so we wanted a facility where our players should feel more comfortable," said the Nederland coach, who is taking his fifth straight Bulldog team to the region quarterfinals.
There'll be a number of contrasts in the contest. Ozen (27-5) has a tremendous height advantage over the 'Dogs with six players 6-5 or better. The Panthers also like to get out and run on almost every possession and they can put up points in bunches.
Nederland, on the other hand, counters with just one player over 6-2.
But what a player he is in University of New Orleans-bound 6-5 senior Weisbrod, who is arguably Southeast Texas' top talent in 2014.
Weisbrod's has had one of Nederland's greatest statistical seasons ever. Averaging 26.3 points and 13.6 rebounds a game, "Big Red" set a school scoring record of 48 points against Alvin, has 25 double-doubles to his credit and is shooting 61.9 percent from the floor.
On two-point attempts, he's shooting an amazing 70.9 percent.
Since the first Ozen game on Feb. 5 (a 12-game stretch), Weisbrod has also made 79.8 percent of his free throws (103-of-129).
English's club, with the exception of the scoring of Weisbrod and 3-point artist Tyler Toon (2.6 treys a game), is a team that loves to play defense, can press when it has to and is sound fundamentally as a team.
On the opposite side, Ozen wants the ball in the hands of University of New Mexico-commited junior guard Hunter, who can light up a gym like the Las Vegas strip.
In the first district game against Nederland, Hunter was held to just 14 points as the Panthers won 40-39 in Beaumont on a basket with 6.2 seconds left. But he erupted for 29 in the Dogdome, including three straight treys to open the second quarter, and added 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
"We can't let Hunter (Jordan) and Sam (Damasteis) get open shots like they did in our place (a 69-64 Ozen win)," said English. "And with their height advantage inside, we have to box out and keep them from scoring on put-backs."
Both teams know each other well, so expect few surprises.
"We've got to grind it out playing solid defense, shoot well from the outside, make our free throws, and guard Hunter better than the last time we played them," said English.
On the year, Nederland is allowing only 50.6 points a game, while scoring at a 60.1 clip. They're also shooting 47.4 percent from the field as a team. The Bulldogs have held opponents to 50 points or less 21 times, 45 points or less 14 times, and only 40 or less seven times.
"I feel this may be one of our best defensive teams since I've been here (8 years)," English stated.
In 6-2, 210-pound senior Colton Kimler, 5-11 sophomore Jaylan Ballou (6.2 pts/game) and 5-9 senior Diondre Frank (7.2 pts/game), the Dogs have players who thrive on the defensive end. Toss in Weisbrod on the inside and this is a very good defensive team against almost anybody.
English felt the key to his team's season has been the emergence of senior Toon's outside game (11.7 pts/game; 37 percent shooter from behind the arc), and the rugged play of Kimler on the defensive end.
"Both of these players have been instrumental in getting us where we are," English noted. "It wasn't something we were getting early in the season."
Although the Bulldogs shot only 66.7 percent from the foul line, in their last five games (including playoff wins over Summer Creek and Montgomery), in the fourth quarter they've been outstanding hitting 77.8 percent of their FTs (35-of-45).
Besides the outstanding play of Hunter and Sam, the Panthers rely on the defense of 5-10 sophomore guard Ryan Haynes, 6-5 sophomore Travon Gibson, 6-5 junior Christian Bolton, and 6-6 senior brothers Kourtland and Kaelin Jackson Goldwire.
The winner faces the Houston Wheatley-Ft. Bend Marshall winner Friday in the regional semifinals in Katy.