SALTILLO – To say Saltillo boys basketball coach Craig Lauderdale enjoys watching his team clicking on all cylinders – and winning – would be an understatement.
Lauderdale’s Tigers have won eight of their last 10 games, including Tuesday’s convincing 74-39 victory against a visiting 16-win Nettleton team.
“We’ve started jelling together,” Lauderdale said. “We’ve started playing well at the right time.”
Sophomore 6-foot-3 power forward Jayven Humphrey scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter to give Saltillo a 20-11 first-quarter lead. Jason Smith, the Tigers’ 6-3 senior forward, added 21 points.
“We like to pound it inside. We’ve got three 6-4 guys who can dribble, shoot and score,” Smith said, then flashed a smile. “We like to run in transition.”
Smith added, “Rebounding and boxing out is the key on defense.”
It’s obvious the players have listened to their coach’s sermon about defending and board play.
“We’ve talked all season that defense and rebounding wins championships,” Lauderdale said. “We’ve got enough scorers to be OK on offense. We’ve got to defend and rebound.”
Saltillo (17-8) wraps up its regular season Friday with another non-division game against New Site.
The Tigers will likely play New Hope next week in the first round of the Division 1-5A tournament in Oxford. The two teams split during the regular season, each taking four-point wins.
“Everybody’s good in our division,” Lauderdale said, referring to neighbors Oxford, New Hope and West Point. “The teams are even. The team playing well that night will win the game.”
In Tuesday’s win, Saltillo pushed it lead to 39-20 at the half. Senior 6-4 guard Jawon Smith scored six of his 10 points in the second quarter.
Saltillo put the game away with a 9-0 run to begin the third quarter. By the time Nettleton scored on a 3-pointer by Damien Ealy, Saltillo was leading 48-23.
Chris Long, a 6-6 senior post player, led Nettleton with 15 points.
(G) Nettleton 62, Saltillo 29: Brittany Adams scored 13 points to lead Nettleton. Saltillo’s Nevah Bledsoe led all scorers with 20.