For the fourth time in the past four years, the Renton Redhawks boys basketball team will sit atop the KingCo standings after a clutch 79-66 win over Sammamish on senior night, Jan. 30.
After a double overtime loss to Sammamish on Jan. 9, the Redhawks were ready for round two.
“That game left a bad taste in our mouth. We had to get this one,” Renton sophomore Marques Ili-Meneese said.
Renton’s toughest regular season schedule-wise, under Head Coach Rashaad Powell, has now come to an end — and Powell is still looking for signs that the Redhawks are improving.
“We have experienced every type of game. We’ve blown people out, we got blasted by Eastside Catholic, played overtime games and double overtime games. We’ve had every array of types of games that we would want to have,” Powell said following the 13-point win.
With the KingCo tournament starting the first full week of February, Renton isn’t quite clicking how Powell would like to see despite six straight victories.
“We allowed 20 offensive rebounds and had 16 turnovers. They scored 30 points off of those two statistics. You take away that 30 points and the 13 that you won by. That is a 40-point win, not to mention the 12 missed free throws… We’re there, it’s just a matter of us doing the right things,” Powell said.
Sammamish created some tough challenges for the Redhawks — mainly in the middle of the floor, with 6’6” Barry Morrissette. Having a true “center” has been a struggle for Renton offensively and defensively. There is a point of emphasis going into games against taller teams and how to handle those challenges, but it comes down to execution.
“If you want a chance to win, you’re going to listen to what I am telling you,” Powell said.
Renton junior Daniel Jackson Jr. fouled out and Powell had this conversation with him: “What are you supposed to do when the shot goes up, no matter where it’s at?” Powell asked him. “Like clockwork he told me ‘Locate. Stab. Box out.’ I asked him, ‘Did you do that?’ ‘No,’” was the response from Jackson.
“It’s going to come down to the fundamental and technical aspects of the game. Can you do those things consistently well? If you can’t do those things well, we are going to struggle,” Powell said.
After leading 20-18 at the end of the first quarter, Renton had a small lapse on offense. Across the first 6:30 of the second quarter, Renton scored just five points. Scoring has never been a worry for the Redhawks this year, and that dry spell didn’t knock Renton’s confidence: “Our issue will never be about scoring points,” Powell said.
Powell feels that between Daniel Jackson Jr., Dennis Johnson, Jordan Agosto, Marques and Micah Ili-Meneese — any one of those guys could score 20 points. Against Sammamish, Johnson and Marques Ili-Meneese both proved that comment to be true, finishing with 22 and 21, respectively.
“Once I see him going, it is motivation for me and vice-versa. We feed off of each other,” Ili-Meneese said.
Renton closed out the half with six points over the last minute and a half and went into halftime all tied at 31-31. Renton was able to find some momentum right out of halftime with an 8-0 run in the first minute.
Junior Dennis Johnson Jr. had just five first half points, but played a big part of the Redhawks’ second half, and he finished with a game high 22 points. Johnson had eight points in the third and helped Renton explode for 24 third quarter points.
Sammamish kept finding ways to hang around with a couple of huge three-pointers and tough baskets with lots of contact. This Sammamish side is a scrappy team and serves as an example that Renton will get every opponent’s best effort.
The Redhawks can match their opponents’ effort with solid play on defense, which Powell has yet to be convinced that his team can. “Our issue isn’t scoring points, it is going to be stopping people. We don’t consistently stop people. We don’t consistently defend well. That is the thing that worries me more than anything,” Powell said.
With 2:00 remaining, Renton was up seven points, but this time the Redhawks closed out Sammamish in regulation. Despite the victory and a share of the league title, Powell wanted a bit better execution down the stretch.
“No,” Powell said when asked if this was the type of play he wants to see late in games.
“This was almost the same game, we just happened to make shots. We made shots and free throws and they missed. We still didn’t contain penetration, gave up open shots and offensive rebounds. We were still poor down the stretch at managing possessions. It’s just those little things are there, that we don’t do,” said Powell.
An example of this type of execution occurred and ended with a Johnson three-pointer. But Powell wanted a shot with a higher make percentage.
“I’m yelling at him that we’re in the bonus and when I have told him that the type of shot I want is something attacking the basket. Either get a foul or a better quality shot. But we end up shooting a three. It’s little things for us,” said Powell.
Some might call this matchup between Renton and Sammamish a rivalry, but Powell doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Renton is 7-2 in the nine games against Sammamish in league and postseason play. With one more game a probable outcome this year, he sees it as another test for Renton to work on execution: “They turn it on and get up for this game. If nothing else it will give us a competitive game to play and prepare for. In any game, no matter who we play, I am more concerned with us. What version of us is going to come out, I am still waiting, and I hope it doesn’t happen until March 2 for us to hit on all cylinders.”