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Stoney Creek girls go back to defensive roots, roll over Rochester to win first Crosstown Showdown

By: Matthew B. Mowery, January 26, 2019, 1:30 am

ROCHESTER — If Kellen James could literally kick himself in the butt, he might just try it.

A defensive-minded coach, James’ teams have been low-scoring, pressure-oriented teams since he took over the reins of the Stoney Creek program a handful of years ago, but this season, he decided to transform the Cougars into more of an offensive team.

That lasted until the midpoint of the season, before he went back to what worked before.

That reorientation showed up in spades on Friday, as the Cougars forced 37 turnovers in a 57-38 win over Rochester at the Crosstown Showdown at Oakland University’s O’Rena.

“You know what? It’s funny. We’ve always been defensive-minded, defensive minded, and I pulled my head out of the sand this summer and said ‘We gotta start scoring some points.’ Throughout the year, our defense kind of struggled a little bit — we were scoring more, but there were more possessions. I was never comfortable, because it (the score) wasn’t in the 30s. It was in the 50s, which made me worry,” James said. “This week, we really focused on getting back to our roots defensively, with our press, and doing what we’re supposed to do, and play out how our program plays, and today kind of showed that. We did it Tuesday against North Farmington, and we just got better and better today.”

So the focus in practice shifted, as the Cougars spent more time on offensive drills.

“Yeah, and part of it is that I made the same dumb mistake two years ago, when I had a lot of kids returning, I think ‘OK, so we’re good on everything. We don’t need to spend that much time (on things). And, as a teacher, the teacher in me said ‘That’s dumb,’” he said. “So we went back to putting 20 minutes on the clock, running the press in practice for 20 minutes, and really focusing on the fine details, and I think that really helped today, our guards getting in the right places, and our close-outs the last two games have been so much better than they had been.”

It was the first time Stoney Creek had played in the Crosstown Showdown — a showcase for the Rochester schools — in its 13 years of existence. Stoney Creek’s only other appearance at the O’Rena came a few years ago, when Bloomfield Hills set up a game for the two teams there.

“That was one of the things when I took the job was that I wanted to see us in it, because we’re just as important as the other two schools, and record-wise, we’ve been one of the best teams in the city for the last few years. It’s important that we were in it,” said James, noting that the change came from the school district, trying to make things equitable for the three schools’ athletic programs. “When we got the news last year, it was awesome. It was almost a year ago when we found out.”

The win, coupled with a 67-54 win over Rochester Adams back in December, gives the Cougars another in their streak of city titles, a run that extends back prior to James’ tenure.

“This is at least four. I would say it’s probably eight of the last nine,” James said. “When I was JV (head coach), we were city champs, so that’s at least seven.”

Rochester won two of the first three girls games played in the Showdown, but had lost the last eight years to Adams.

Despite the turnovers, Jeff Haney saw reasons for optimism in Friday’s loss, which snapped a four-game win streak, and dropped the OAA Blue-leading Falcons (5-6, 5-0 OAA Blue) back under .500. The former Falcons head coach, who compiled a 132-69 record with two regional titles in nine seasons before taking a hiatus as the program’s leader, returned to the varsity bench this season.

“I’m more encouraged by things I saw tonight than discouraged. The girls know, our weakness in the summer and even at the beginning of the season was handling pressure. That was a huge weakness, and for us to come out — we’ve never had to play against that kind of pressure — I thought the girls did tons of great things. I told the girls I’m very proud of them. I’d like to come back and practice like … right now. Because there’s so many things we’re improving on, and doing better,” Haney said. “We knew we were going to have turnovers, but we had girls in spots that they’re not used to playing sometimes, and they handled it better than they’ve done.”

Stoney Creek started the game on a 10-0 run, but the Falcons managed to limit the turnovers in the second quarter, and went into halftime down just 30-19. The Cougars steadily pulled away in the second half.

“It was cool. … We said that before the game: There’s a band, it’s going to be loud. We said the first three minutes of the game were going to be important for just weathering the storm,” James said. “Once you got done with the lights, and the floor, it’s just basketball. I think we settled down. I think the extended halftime really helped.”

Lilly DiPanni led the Cougars with 20 points, while Emily Eckhout had 12, and Marina St. Louis nine. Anna Winkler had nine points off the bench to lead Rochester.