Published: Jan 21, 2012 02:44 AM
Modified: Jan 21, 2012 09:44 PM
FUQUAY-VARINA - Cary boys basketball coach Allan Gustafson didn't want to get into a full-court game on Friday at Fuquay-Varina. But the last-place Bengals, who have yet to win a game in the Tri-Nine Conference stayed close through the first quarter with Cary. And that prompted Gustafson to change his philosophy.
The Imps started to press, and Gustafson substituted freely. Cary didn't force many turnovers, but the Imps became energized and started to find their rhythm on both sides of the ball.
"Welcome to our year," said Gustafson, whose team came away with a 53-43 road victory.
The press hasn't always worked for Cary. In some lopsided losses -- the Imps had lost their previous four games this month by 14 points or more -- the press only opened up layups for the opposition. Gustafson was wary it would happen again.
"You give a team a couple of transition buckets, and they get confident. The last thing I wanted to do was give a team who is 0-10 (in the conference) confidence," he said. "But then I looked out there and said 'we can press these guys' and I just had the feeling we could. One reason why I like the press is because it picks up the intensity of the defense. I thought it picked up the pace. And once it picked the pace of the game up a little bit, I thought that was too our advantage."
Cary never trailed from the second quarter on, even though their lead shrank to four at halftime and with just a few minutes left in regulation.
The Imps were relieved to get back in the win column since winter break ended.
"It hasn't been a good 2012," Gustafson said. "If we're going to get out of this funk, it's going to be done as a team. It's not going to be done as individual players."
With the focus on team-wide effort, the Imps got a team-wide effort on Friday.
Senior center Stephen Bajorek scored 12 points and Michael Campbell added 10. Five other players had five points or more, and 12 different players all saw the court before the midway point in the third quarter.
"We wanted to change our momentum. We had been going downhill," said Bajorek, who also had 10 rebounds.
Cary is used to reversing course in a quick manner. Earlier this year, the Imps suffered a 57-point loss to Garner only to come back four days later and upset conference foe Middle Creek.
The key, Bajorek said, is a "short-term memory loss. You forget about what happened and go on to the next game."
Fuquay (2-15, 0-11) was hoping it could also put previous Tri-Nine losses in the past. Fuquay was able to break Cary's press, but the Bengals rushed shots in half-court sets. Bengals coach Randy Barrow said missing senior point guard Ricky Fergerson, who has a broke nose, hurt the team's on-court presence.
"We were kind of sloppy with it in spots where we didn't need to be," Barrow said. "We kind of missed (Fergerson) tonight and him being able to settle us down."
No Bengals player averages more than 8.4 points per game -- though it had two, Devonte Lee and Michael Verian -- with 10 points apiece on Friday. Without a go-to scoring threat, Barrow said his team is focusing more on defense. And with his team a longshot to make the conference tournament -- Fuquay was swept by eighth-place Lee County -- the coach is also hoping to see continued improvement.
"Tonight we played a good, solid 32 minutes of defense," Barrow said. "The biggest goal for me is to watch them get better and learn the game."
Cary (7-11, 5-6) will finish out the regular season with four out of its last five games at home. The Imps are trying to push for a return to the playoffs and need to finish higher than fifth to earn a spot.
"We feel like that fifth spot for the playoffs is still up for grabs," Gustafson said. "I feel like we can make a little run with the schedule and get that fifth playoff spot. And I think that'd be a great accomplishment."