High School Basketball

Paetow turns up defense to roll to regional final

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/2/21

ALDINE—Paetow boys basketball coach Michael Niemi preached every day leading up to the playoffs.

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High School Basketball

Paetow turns up defense to roll to regional final

Posted

ALDINE—Paetow boys basketball coach Michael Niemi preached every day leading up to the playoffs.

“We’re playing against great teams every night, and we have to defend,” Niemi pleaded to his players.

Bet.

The Panthers heeded Niemi’s words, and then took their actions up a notch. In the last three playoff games, Paetow has been spectacular defensively.

The latest display was a thorough 70-42 demolition of Goose Creek Memorial in the Class 5A Region III semifinals on Tuesday, March 2, at the Campbell Center. The Panthers forced the Patriots into 4-of-26 shooting from 3-point range and outrebounded them, 50-30. Goose Creek Memorial had more turnovers (18) than field goals (14).

The irrepressible defensive effort was next in line after the Panthers held Pflugerville Weiss to 43 points and 16 turnovers to 15 field goals in an area round win and limited Kingwood Park to 39 points and 4-for-22 3-point shooting in a regional quarterfinal win.

Paetow (23-1) advances to the regional final to play No. 2 state-ranked and undefeated Beaumont United (28-0) at the Campbell Center on Friday, March 5.

“These guys want it,” Niemi said. “They’re believing a little bit more that they can sit down defensively in a halfcourt setting and play disciplined. Before, I think they had doubts because their mindset was to score a lot and get steals and deflections and turn them into transition points. What they found out today was holding teams down like this can turn into transition as well. They’re learning they can defend in the halfcourt and still be great offensively.”

Goose Creek Memorial (24-4) averaged 71.5 points per game entering the regional semi. Its top three players of juniors Sam Bradford, Avant Coleman and Dariyus Woodson averaged a combined 45.6 points per game. Against Paetow, the trio managed 30 total points.

“In the regular season, we struggled with communicating defensively really bad,” said junior center Charles Chukwu, who had a game-high 18 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocks. “The playoffs come, we’ve stepped up, played disciplined, gambled less and communicated more. It’s paying off.”

It started with junior Trevor Frank.

The quick-handed, rangy guard set an early tone with two quick steals and five points in the first quarter as Paetow led from the opening tip and never looked back. Frank compiled 11 points and five steals, and in the process crossed the 1,000-point career milestone.

“Fourth round in the playoffs to do that? That’s exciting,” Frank said.

The previous two games, Niemi and his staff carried around a commemorative basketball to award Frank once he reached the mark. But he scored a total of 11 points against Weiss and Park and remained six points shy of 1,000, so, because Niemi thought carrying it around might be a jinx, the basketball was left at the school for the regional semi.

As it happened, Frank turned in his best game of the postseason.

“He was taking great shots, getting out in transition, finding the spots on the 3-point line,” Niemi said. “His mindset was team-oriented and it helped him get into rhythm.”

Niemi said his players watched “hours upon hours” of film on Goose Creek Memorial leading up to the game. Niemi told his players to know their opponent better than the opponent knows them.

They did.

“That team was talking trash about us all week and we had to shut them up,” said senior guard Jayden McCullough, who had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. “They had no offense. All they had was pin-downs and motions. All we had to do was sit down, play behind the 3-point line and they struggled.”

“They thought they were going to 20-ball us,” McCullough added of the projected point differential Patriots players had talked about on social media. “We 30-balled them.”

Four Panthers scored in double figures. Aside from Chukwu, Frank and McCullough, senior guard Khi Watkins added a tough and aggressive 11 points and 12 rebounds. Senior forward Everett Marlatt scored nine points, including a pair of dunks in the fourth quarter that would have made Zion Williamson jealous. Senior guard Brian McKnight finished with four points and nine rebounds.

For the second straight game, only one opposing player scored in double figures. Woodson had 13 points.

“We’re trying to win state,” Frank said. “That’s our goal.”

The Panthers certainly seem to have what it takes.

“Right now, I don’t know where the ceiling is,” Niemi said. “We’re going to come across a great Beaumont United team, so that will be a huge test. If we’re the team we think we are, we’ll be able to see it. I’m excited for these guys to get the opportunity. Do I believe we have the ability to get to state? Absolutely.”

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