By JUSTIN RAINS
After coming out on the short-end of a highly-contested, hard-fought game to open the season Tuesday, the second-ranked Cayuga basketball team was looking for a bounce-back performance Thursday.
The Wildcats got just that, using shut-down defense in the third quarter to pull away from Melissa en route to a 60-44 victory to open up the Fairfield Eagles Invitational.
The win is the Wildcats’ — who lost to Douglass to open the season Tuesday — first of the season, and sets them up to face Palestine in the second round today. That game is set for 10:30 a.m. in Fairfield’s main gym.
“I think we thought we could get off the bus at Douglass and go over there and win that game,” CHS coach Greg Jenkins said. “I thought, tonight, the kids responded. I just asked them for effort and energy, and they came out and gave it to us.”
After opening up a seven-point lead in the first quarter, the Wildcats let Melissa back into the game in the second quarter, when the Cardinals held Cayuga to only nine points.
Then came the third quarter, however, and it was Cayuga’s turn to crank-up the defensive pressure.
The Wildcats opened the half in a full-court zone press, and it worked like a charm. Melissa scored only four points in the third quarter, and midway through the fourth quarter had only added four more before Jenkins called off the press.
“We talked about it during halftime, talked about turning it up on the defensive end and they did,” Jenkins said.
Meanwhile, Cayuga’s offense started to find a bit of a rhythm behind star Preston Anderson.
Anderson had 18 points in the game, with 11 of those coming in the second half and a lot of those coming in the third quarter, when he began to attack the basket more.
Meanwhile, senior forward Deon Shofner quietly had a strong night for the Wildcats. Shofner finished with 10 points on five-of-six shooting, and pulled down 10 rebounds while remaining a deterring force inside on the defensive end.
“Our kids needed something positive to happen tonight,” Jenkins said. “We’re coming off of a tough loss the other night and everything was kind of negative.”
Hunter Jenkins added nine points and six rebounds, while Chandler Rigdon had eight points and five rebounds in the victory.
Along with his 18 points, Anderson had five rebounds and a team-high six assists. Both D’onte Jackson and Wesley Rigdon had four points for Cayuga, who Jenkins said still showed signs of rust.
“We still look a little like a football team,” he said.
Melissa kept things interesting for a half, thanks in large part to its play in the second quarter.
The Cardinals kept Anderson almost completely off the score-sheet in the frame — he had one point — and locked down Cayuga as a whole while scoring 12 points to get themselves back in the game.
Cayuga started strong, with Anderson feeding Shofner for a dunk inside on the very first possession. Anderson finished the first quarter with six points and Shofner had four.