Linc Lyles has every intention of testing the depth of his Whale Branch Early College High School basketball team early this season.
The Warriors coach knows a proven bench could be dangerous come March, when his team will look to make a second consecutive appearance in the Class 1-A championship. He got his plan started early Tuesday night, when a bevy of players led Whale Branch to a 70-37 demolition of Hilton Head Island High.
"We've seen the teams that go the farthest," he said. "They have a deep bench. That's what we're trying to do."
Twelve players in all cracked the scoring column, with Justin Rhode and Simeon Middleton leading the charge with 21 and 11 points, respectively. Whale Branch (3-1) substituted liberally, as Lyles replaced all five of his starters throughout the night in order to keep the outmanned Seahawks (0-1) on their toes.
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"It's a gamble, but sometimes it kind of shakes the game up and we use different defenses with different groups," he said. "We run different plays on offense. We're just trying to keep the other team off-balance."
The Warriors turned a tight first quarter into a laugher by night's end, as a 17-2 second period lifted Whale Branch to a comfortable margin it would not relinquish. When Hilton Head High point guard Jacob Coltrane departed with a separated shoulder, Whale Branch turned the pressure up on the young Seahawks with a suffocating full-court defense, which forced 12 turnovers.
"I think you're seeing a lot of young guys who have very limited experience," Seahawks coach Ken Updike said.
The Warriors wanted to come out firing against Hilton Head High, hoping to erase the sting of a surprising loss to Cane Bay last weekend when they let a big lead slip away. Rhode took care of most of that, as the junior connected on a pair of 3-pointers in his game-high 21-point effort.
"We were really upset," he said. "We went back to practice, got back at it and got ready for the next game."
He will look to lead Whale Branch once again on Saturday, when the Warriors face Battery Creek in a game where they will once again test their newfound bench.
"I don't know if we're as talented as we were last year, but I think we're deeper," Lyles said. "And I'll take that any day."
Whale Branch boys 70, Hilton Head High 37
Whale Branch (2-1) -- Justin Rhode 21, Simeon Middleton 11, David Lamb 9, Marlon Williams 6, Denzel Daniel 6, Marcus Bell 4, Byron Lloyd 3, Jay Abney 2, Jovelle Coakley 2, Chavone Simmons 2, Devonta Glover 2, Michael Middleton 2
Hilton Head High (0-1) -- Aaron Frazier 11, Troy Clifford 7, Matt MacDonnel 6, Jacob Coltrane 5, Malik Singleton 4, Cameron Halseth 2, Craig Ryan 2
Hilton Head High girls 24, Whale Branch 22
Wilbert Bryant thought his team had stolen one.
The Whale Branch girls basketball team had struggled most of the night against Hilton Head High, trailing from the outset as the final seconds approached. But Nichole Smalls' 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds appeared to erase the Warriors' troubles, giving what Bryant believed was a 25-24 lead.
But a three-second violation before the shot wiped out the Whale Branch comeback, as Hilton Head High instead emerged with the 24-22 victory in its season opener.
"I thought the shot was good," Bryant said. "I didn't hear a three second call. I didn't see three seconds. But hey, tough way to go out."
Bryant had other laments than the missed call. Whale Branch (2-1) was unable to capitalize on 19 Seahawks turnovers, as all-area standout Kemoni Jenkins and Shaniqua Johnson, MVP of the Battery Creek tournament, were held to just eight combined points.
Hilton Head High's man-to-man defense frustrated the Warriors from the outset. Brennan O'Gorman, despite being nearly 8 inches shorter than Johnson, held the standout to just two baskets while Tiffany Banks and Rachel Friend successfully teamed up on Jenkins.
"They're so much bigger than us," coach Dave Greenberg said. "We have Americal (Jenkins), but really nobody else. They towered over us at every position. I'm really proud of the kids' effort."
Americal Jenkins led Hilton Head High with nine points and nine rebounds while guard Lauryn Bush chipped in seven. Their offense was good enough to eke out the win despite its curious ending.
"I knew it (was a violation), it was called early," Greenberg said. "It was called way before she shot the ball, so I wasn't even worried about that."
Whale Branch (2-1) -- Jonae Riley 8, Shaniqua Johnson 4, Kemoni Jenkins 4, Cheyenne Rogers 2, Shatayia Clark 2, Dana Chapel 2
Hilton Head High (1-0) -- Americal Jenkins 9, Lauryn Bush 7, Tiffany Banks 6, Savannah Reier 2