Jason Keeler asked the first question after South Effingham’s boys basketball game with Wayne County on Friday night.
The first-year coach wanted to know how many second-half points his Mustangs had given up before he began his postgame talk, a positive he could reinforce to his team after their 62-47 defeat.
The Mustangs allowed only 19 second-half points to the Yellow Jackets, 10 fewer points than they had for the first quarter.
“At halftime, I challenged them,” Keeler said. “I said, ‘There is only one thing I ask of you, and that is to execute.’ I’m really pleased they executed. The way they accepted the challenge of executing at halftime, I’m not disappointed. Improvement is apparent.”
The Mustangs and Jackets were tied 6-6 in the first quarter before Wayne County reeled off nine straight points.
South Effingham committed three consecutive turnovers in that span as the Jackets’ press began to take a toll.
“They got a little more aggressive,” Keeler said of the Yellow Jackets. “Instead of fighting pressure with more pressure, we backed off and we became less aggressive.
Jamaal Bynes capped a brief 6-0 spurt that cut the gap to 20-14 before Wayne County got cranked up again, highlighted by Vince Merritt’s putback dunk.
Wayne County’s lead swelled to as much as 18 before the Mustangs rallied to cut the deficit to 43-28. Keeler’s objective is to keep opponents around 50 points for the game, and the Jackets had nearly that much in the first half.
That led to his halftime talk.
The Mustangs had a chance to get back into the game with 5:46 left in the fourth quarter, following a technical foul on the Jackets. Bynes hit one of two foul shots — the Mustangs were only 14 of 30 from the line for the game — and the Mustangs failed to convert on the ensuing possession, leaving Wayne County with a 56-42 lead.
“We really felt like that was an opportunity,” Keeler said, noting assistant coach Brian Rehberg pointed it out on the bench. “(He) said, ‘Momentum is on our side. Here’s where we take advantage of it.’”
Keeler was happy his young team battled Wayne to a 19-19 second half.
“The most important thing is leaving that locker room, these guys understand what they’re capable of doing,” he said.
“They did not allow a bigger, stronger, faster team to intimidate them in the second half. My guys continue to find ways to hang around and be competitive.”
Merritt and Dejunia Curry led all scorers with 11 points each. Curry had all his points in the first quarter. Jared Moore added 10 for the Yellow Jackets.
Bynes and Jaron Mullins paced the Mustangs with nine points each. Zach Anderson and Tanner Burch each had eight points, Justin Hatten had five and Eddie Harris and Aaron Fisher had four points apiece.
Now, Keeler wants his team to string together the good streaks of play they’ve had.
“When we finally put together 32 minutes of basketball, these guys will believe they will be a tough team to beat,” he said.