Greenport High School christened its new-look gym in style Tuesday night. Not only is there a new floor on Coach Al Court, which will be dedicated to former Porters coach Al Edwards on Dec. 20, but there are also snazzy new purple bleachers with the letters “GHS” spelled out in gold.
But what Greenport may have liked best of all was the harassing, pressure defense it applied in its 86-31 season-opening win over Bishop McGann-Mercy. The Porters’ swarming defense, Ahkee Anderson’s second career triple-double and a career-high 23 points from Jaxan Swann all contributed to the non-league blowout.
“We were ready,” said Julian Swann, the 6-4 center whose intimidating presence was a factor as well.
There was no question about that as Greenport took charge from the opening tip-off. Mercy was pressured into 13 turnovers in the first quarter when it fell into a 23-6 hole. That hole grew deeper as Greenport forced 18 turnovers and held the Monarchs to 3-of-21 shooting from the field in the first half, which ended with the Porters holding a commanding 45-11 lead.
Guards with quick hands and quick feet like Anderson, Jaxan Swann, Brandon Clark and Jordan Fonseca made life miserable for Mercy, which in the face of that pressure struggled at times to advance the ball beyond the midcourt line.
“Those guys are quick and they’re just relentless, and they take pride in the defense,” said Greenport coach Ev Corwin.
That defense led to plenty of layups and transition points.
“We still want to score points off of steals, off of errant passes,” Corwin said. “We’re going to try to make the teams uncomfortable defensively. We have the horses. I think all coaches would like to be able to do that, but you have to be able to have the guys.”
And Greenport does.
Not only did Anderson, a sophomore, pick up a rare triple-double, but he nearly had a quadruple-double, with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists and eight steals. At the same time, the point guard committed only three turnovers.
If there is a surprise player on the Porters this season, though, it might be Jaxan Swann. Corwin said he saw a difference in the junior’s play in a summer league. “Jaxan brought himself to a different level now and it just makes us more dangerous,” said the coach.
Asked about his brother’s 23-point effort, Julian Swann said, “I saw it coming.”
Mercy senior Allan Zilnicki turned in a full night’s work. He not only hit five three-pointers and scored 23 of his team’s 31 points, but also grabbed 13 rebounds before exiting the game with 1 minute, 15 seconds left to play.
The Monarchs didn’t reach double figures until a Zilnicki free throw made the score 41-10 with 2:18 left in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Greenport’s offense was flowing, with 19 points from Fonseca and 14 points and 14 rebounds from Julian Swann. Nine Porters scored altogether.
But the bulk of the damage had been done by Greenport’s defense, which produced 21 steals and 26 Mercy turnovers.
“We wanted to do that,” Julian Swann said. “We were on our feet, getting out to the shots, double-teaming and trapping.”
Anderson said: “That’s been our main focus, to play defense, you know, keep the intensity up, and that’s what we did tonight. When everyone’s on the same page, we all move as a unit and we play to win, and the defense leads to offense and that’s what happened tonight.”
That defense limited Mercy to 10-of-50 shooting from the field.
“We just really work hard on trying to be in the right position,” Corwin said. “It’s sweat defense. It really is. It’s hard work.”
Photo caption: Greenport sophomore Ahkee Anderson, shooting over Bishop McGann-Mercy’s John Venesina, nearly had a quadruple-double, with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists and eight steals. (Credit: Garret Meade)