Incline boys cruise in home opener
The Incline basketball team’s focus in the practices leading up to their season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 28, has been all about the defensive side of the ball.
The Highlanders are intent on playing hardnosed, man-to-man defense this year, and started so in a big way with 31 forced turnovers in an 88-58 victory at home over Coral Academy of Science — Reno.
Over the past couple of weeks the team has worked with Head Coach Tim Kelly’s father in-law, Larry Toner, who was a longtime basketball and football coach at Servite High School in Anaheim, Calif.
“He’s a 78-year-old legend,” Kelly said. “He came up and helped us with our defense the last two weeks, and it’s exactly what you think — it’s old school, in to you, deny, get your butt to the ball — and you saw it tonight.
“It’s the best we’ve ever defended at Incline High School … it set the tone for the season and that’s why Coach Toner was here.”
Defense highlighted the early moments of the game against Coral Academy, as the Highlanders turned the Falcons early 3-2 lead, into a big deficit behind a 25-0 run. The swarming Highlanders defense created 14 turnovers in the period for a 40-12 advantage going into the second quarter.
Junior point guard Ian Smith created havoc in the backcourt during the quarter, and led the Highlanders with 11 points.
“That’s the best Ian Smith has ever defended in his life,” Kelly said.
Unfortunately, a rolled ankle would land Smith on the bench for the remainder of the contest.
Incline junior Liam Nolan-Bowers also played well for the team, dominating the offensive glass early on and finishing the night with nine points.
“I just wanted to make my presence felt and open it up for other shooters with offensive boards,” Nolan-Bowers said.
While the team’s defense was on point, the Highlanders struggled from the field, going seven of 26 on 3-point attempts.
“We know we can score the ball,” said senior Will Stranzl. “So our focus in all of the practices leading up to this was to set the tone defensively, because we know our defense translates into offense. If we’re getting steals and we’re being active and we’re all involved, we know we’re going to be doing good things.”
Stranzl is Incline’s lone senior this season, and led the team with 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
“We didn’t shoot the ball the way we can shoot the ball, so we’ll look to be improving that,” Stranzl said. “That just comes with getting more shots in practice. We know the ball will fall.”
Sophomore Zach Pexa led the team with three, 3-pointers on the night, and finished with 12 points for the game. Junior Matt Cornell also cracked double figures with 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting.
Class 2A Incline will see a big step up in competition with the team traveling to Sparks for a tournament against several Class 3A and Class 4A squads.
Incline will open the tournament on Thursday, Nov. 30, against Class 4A Damonte Ranch at 3 p.m.
“It’s a good tournament, and we did that for a reason,” Kelly said. “We want to play really good teams … in the end, the focus is getting to the regional tournament and getting to the state tournament, and we’re using all these games to get ready for that.”