Bolles' second half stymies Raiders

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Sixteen points from point guard Kadin Elmore was not enough to prevent Orange Park High boys basketball from suffering its first loss of the young basketball season as the host Raiders fell to Jacksonville Bolles 59-40 and Bulldogs’ star Bobby Crouch in non-district boys basketball action on Fri., Dec. 6.

Crouch used deft ball handling and a variety of head and shoulder fakes to penetrate the lane and convert easy lay-ups and feathery floaters. The junior guard scored 14 of the Bulldogs 16 first quarter points, and finished with a game-high 24.

“I did not want to double Crouch, because they [Bolles] have too many other shooters,” said Orange Park coach Derek Kurnitsky. “But we were unable to keep him in front of us.”

The match-up pitted the Class 6A Raiders, who have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons under Kurnitsky, against the Bulldogs, whose season ended in the Class 5A Regional Semifinals in 2019. Each team entered with a 2-0 record, and a boisterous crowd created a playoff-like atmosphere at the tipoff.

The first half was an entertaining, back-and-forth affair with each team playing pressure defense and each offense fervently attacking the basket. While Crouch, whose twisting lay-up gave Bolles a 16-15 lead as the first quarter ended, was doing all of the damage for Bulldogs, five different Raiders scored in the first quarter.

The pace slowed in the second quarter as the defenses stiffened and both teams took time to probe for open shots. With 10 first half poinst, Elmore kept the hosts within striking distance. Nick Nist followed a baseline jumper by the Raiders’ D’marre Craddock by with a fast break lay-up to give Bolles a 25-21 advantage at the intermission.

The pivotal sequence came in the first three and a half minutes of the third quarter, when the Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run to seize control. Kurnitsky put the taller and rangier Jeremy Monterola out on the perimeter to slow Crouch down, a tactic which limited the Crouch to only five second half points. However, the move gave Nist more freedom to operate inside, and the 6’-5” senior made the Raiders pay. Nist scored nine points during the decisive run on a tip-in and variety of post moves. Meanwhile, the visitors’ three quarters-court press forced Orange Park into turnovers on three of the Raiders’ first four possessions. Orange Park recovered somewhat after a time out, but the Raiders never narrowed their deficit to less than 12 points.

“Our youth showed up,” Kurnitsky said of the third quarter. “For most of our guys, this is the first year they are playing varsity, and I think they psyched themselves out a little bit, playing Bolles.”

The Bulldogs outscored Orange Park 18-7 in the quarter, with all of the Bulldogs’ points coming from inside the lane. The Raiders could not find open shots from close range with Bolles in a tight zone defense, and could not make enough outside shots to force the Bulldogs to either extend their zone or play man-to-man. The Raiders found the mark on only three of 18 shots from beyond the three-point arc— with two of the makes by Elmor— before senior Javon Dickerson hit two three balls in the game’s waning moments.

With so many of their shots coming from inside the lane, Bolles enjoyed a significant advantage at the free throw line. The Bulldogs attempted 18 free throws, converting 15, while Orange Park made three of just five attempts.

“This makes us better,” said Kurnitsky of the game versus the highly regarded Bulldogs. “I could have scheduled a game where we could beat the other team by 50, but then you don’t learn anything.”

Dickerson’s two long range bombs made him Orange Park’s second leading scorer with six points. Craddock, Monterola, Corey Thomas, and Josiah Sabino chipped in four points apiece. The Raiders will face another stiff challenge when they travel to Neptune Beach Fletcher for their next game on Tues., Dec. 10.

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