Cedar Crest knows it will face a much different Lebanon team in the second meeting between both rivals.
Two games into the season, Cedar Crest went into Lebanon high school and won its cross-town rival’s tipoff tournament championship, while also earning coach Tom Smith’s 100th career win, earning a 2-0 start.
The Cedars meanwhile, struggled out of the gate with a 1-2 start.
Things have changed for Lebanon since then, winning eight of its last nine.
But most importantly, the Cedars find themselves atop what’s been a very competitive Section One. They hold a two-game lead on the Falcons, as well as McCaskey, which is suddenly back in the race after a slow start.
And Lebanon intends to keep itself on top by getting a win on its rival’s home floor Friday night.
“It would mean a lot,” said Cedars coach Tim Speraw. “Just the fact we’d keep our distance in the Section is the most important thing, especially in our first year back in a while. Our focus is definitely on winning it.”
With staying atop the section the main priority, the Cedars aren’t worried about revenge.
“We don’t really talk about that,” Speraw said. “It doesn’t matter if tis the second or third time you play Cedar Crest. You play to win. You don’t want to make it any bigger.”
The focal point of the Cedars turnaround – everyone gelling at the right time.
“I think everyone is just buying into their roles,” Speraw said. “Everyone understands what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively. Our team chemistry has gotten a lot better since week one.”
Luis Aquino-Rios and Camryn Shaak have been leading the way offensively, averaging 12.75 and 11.45 points per game, respectively.
The Cedars have been stout defensively as well, averaging 54.3 points allowed per game during this nine-game stretch.
“We’re trying to focus on rebounding better,” Speraw said. “We rebounded well in the first couple of games. We also change up defenses, and we always make sure we have our match ups down.”
In addition to keeping things tight defensively, Lebanon will also need to take better care of the basketball in its second go-round with Cedar Crest.
In its first meeting with the Falcons, the Cedars looked as though they would take control early with a 5-0 run to start- but after four straight turnovers, Cedar Crest was off on a 14-0 run and never looked back.
Speraw said, “Cedar Crest always has good ball pressure. We also missed a lot of easy shots we normally make. If you miss those easy shots and turn the ball over, then you’re in trouble. We just need to handle their pressure better and focus on scoring the basketball. Then everything should take care of itself.”
But the Falcons know this is a different Cedars team, seeing how dangerous they’ve become.
Smith said, “The biggest thing since the start is their making shots, and it’s not just one guy…it’s the whole team. They’re a tough team to prepare for. Coach Speraw’s got them playing at a very high level. They’re playing very efficiently right now. It really looks like they’ve bought in on the defensive end too. They’re probably the best team I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks.”
Cedar Crest is 7-3 since its last meeting with Lebanon.
“I’ve like how we’ve found ways to win,” Smith said. “We haven’t always won pretty…in fact, most of our games have been decided by six points or less. But the kids are continuing to work on the things we do and are getting better.”
The Falcons have also being very tough to score on, giving up only 52.2 points per game in that stretch, but Smith wants to see more consistency offensively.
“We’re working hard on it. Teams are playing us a different way,” he said. “I think our man-to-man offense we do quite well against, but teams want to play zone. So we’re continuing to work against the zone and work on the different skills that we need to be successful playing against the zone. We play in spirts, and if we can ever be consistent, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Blake Thomson has emerged as a possible spark, leading the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” Thomson said. “My 3-point shot’s been going in and I got my foul shots down, but I just need to do a better job finishing in the lane. The team’s definitely been building off of that.”
Thomson said winning the glass is key not only against a team with size in Lebanon, but going forward as well.
“We need those second chance points off that,” he said. “We can definitely get more shots up in the gym too. We also need to do better finishing, and running through our offense, not forcing shots.”
One thing Cedar Crest will bring however, especially for big games like these, is focus, which is vital when playing at home.
“The crowd has a lot to do with it,” Thomson said. “We come out and it’s a great feeling with everyone cheering. You just get that adrenaline rush. I love that feeling. It just takes a lot of focus to not let the crowd get to us, and just settle down. The situation is never too big for us.”
Tip-off Friday is at 7:30 p.m.