By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD -- Effingham County’s boys basketball coach Jake Darling can see the difference a few practices make on his young team.
The Rebels had three days to prepare for their home opener and looked sharp defensively while pulling away from May River of Bluffton, S.C., 64-49 in a non-region affair Friday night.
ECHS, a 17-win team a year ago, won its second straight game of the 2020-21 season and raised its record to 2-1.
“We’ll build off tonight,” Darling said. “I thought our defense was pretty good. We played multiple defenses, multiple presses. We tried to mix it up and as we go on, we’ll get better at those things.”
The Rebels were at their best in the second quarter when they rattled off a decisive 17-3 spurt, holding the Sharks to just one field goal in a span of more than seven minutes.
Sophomore Keion Wallace had eight of his 20 points during the run and older brother Khiry Wallace, a junior, added six of his team-high 21.
ECHS also benefited from foul trouble to James Layman, May River’s top player. Layman, a shooting guard who finished with 21 points, picked up his second foul midway through the second quarter and sat for the rest of the half.
Without Layman, the Sharks offense lost their bite. ECHS turned an 11-8 deficit into a 25-14 lead and May River never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
“With (Layman) going out of the game, I think our press settled in and we were able to get some rebounds and get out in transition,” Darling said. “We’re at our best when we’re in transition, when our defense leads to our offense.”
The Rebels are learning. Three games provide a small sample size but holding May River to 49 points was a season low after surrendering 68 points in a loss to Westside in the Evans Tip-Off Classic and 57 points to Savannah Christian on Monday.
Darling points to the football players rounding into basketball shape, mentally and physically, in practice.
Four of Friday’s starters -- Khiry and Keion Wallace and Timothy Brown and Ashley Thompson -- played on the football team. ECHS’ last football game was Nov. 20 against Brunswick and the next day the Rebels’ basketball season started at Evans.
Then, the Thanksgiving holiday interrupted the practice schedule. After having Thursday, Friday and Saturday off, the team resumed workouts on Sunday night and played Savannah Christian on Monday.
Darling said poor shot selection has been a culprit in the team’s early erratic play.
“I don’t know if we solved any of our weaknesses, but we played (solid defense) in a way that covered up those weaknesses,” Darling said.
In the girls game, Effingham County showed some improvement with a season-high scoring output despite falling to May River, 45-34.
The Rebels (0-3) trailed 20-10 at halftime, but played the Sharks on nearly equal terms (25-24) in the second half.
Faith Norman led ECHS with 12 points and Destiney Walls had 10.