By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Saturday that trust helped his young Pirates squad stay together during a second-half rough patch and earn a crucial 77-64 Northwest Athletic Conference North Region win against Everett.
“I think we are starting to play our best basketball,” Freeman said.
“They are buying into each other and we have some sort of set [playing] rotation for guys.
“We are starting to trust each other and play together, and I'm super proud of the way we came out from start to finish.”
The win puts Peninsula (5-5, 12-10) into a third-place tie with Skagit Valley (5-5, 13-9), and one game ahead of Everett (4-6, 13-12) and Shoreline (4-6, 9-14) with four games remaining.
The top four teams in the region advance to the NWAC championship tournament in March.
Strong defense in the early going helped the Pirates build an early 13-2 lead with 15:17 left in the first half, with seven points from Deonte Dixon, including a steal at midcourt that led to Dixon throwing down a two-handed slam dunk.
“Deonte was feeling pretty good tonight with his shot,” Freeman said.
Dixon led Peninsula in scoring with 25 and rebounds with eight, while hitting 3 of 6 shots from behind the 3-point line and all eight of his free-throw attempts.
The Pirates also conjured up some improvisational magic, with Chris Reis and Ryley Callaghan each scrambling late in the shot clock and hitting deep 3s.
Dixon also came through as a facilitator, taking a steal and firing a missile of a bounce pass between the legs of a defender to Jal Deng, who was fouled while hitting a layup.
Deng converted the free throw and Dixon followed with a 3, as Peninsula pushed to its largest first-half lead, 34-15 with 6:05 to go until half.
The Pirates lead was 38-23 at the break after limiting Everett to just 20 percent shooting from the floor.
“Our ball pressure and keeping the basketball out of the key, out of the heart of the defense was important there,” Freeman said.
“We really wanted to keep the basketball in front of us and force harder shots for them.
“So when you are shooting 15- to 18-foot jump shots, that makes it hard on them, and that's what they were getting.
“It was our second-best [defensive] effort in a half. We held Edmonds in our crossover game to 14 percent shooting.”
Peninsula's lead stretched as high as 52-34 after a 3 by Reis with 13:15 to play.
But Dixon and Deng got into foul trouble, and that allowed for easier entry into the paint for Everett star Derek Brown, and created a struggle for the Pirates to put up points offensively.
Brown hit 19 of his 25 points in the second half, including eight of the Trojans' points during an 18-4 run that cut the Peninsula lead to 56-52 with 7:53 to play.
“We knew Everett was going to come back, and we knew Derek Brown is a terrific player and you aren't going to keep him quiet for 40 minutes,” Freeman said.
“Partly, it was due to foul trouble. We went [to a 3-2] zone to try and limit their dribble penetration.
“Going to zone hurt us offensively, the rhythm of the game really changed for us offensively.”
The Pirates started to settle for one-on-one plays on the offensive end, not sharing the ball and working through their sets to find shots.
“We became very stagnant,” Freeman said.
But Peninsula overcame the challenge.
Callaghan got to the line for free throws and read the defense for a full-court layup to put the Pirates up 62-54 with five minutes left.
Callaghan finished with 16 points and four rebounds.
Dixon then followed with consecutive buckets high on the degree of difficulty, a lefty leaner off the glass and a double-clutch layup after Jeremiah Hobbs forced a steal.
“Jeremiah was a huge spark for us offensively, and his timing and length caused many problems defensively,” Freeman said.
Hobbs scored six, blocked three shots and had four rebounds and two steals.
Those scores by Callaghan and Dixon put Peninsula up 66-56 with 3:36 to play.
Brown also was contained, only scoring six points in the final 10 minutes of the game, by the defense of Deng and Reis.
“That last six or seven minutes, I'm going to credit him [Reis]; Derek had his shots, but that last five minutes was tough for him,” Freeman said.
“We told Chris to stay on him and not deny him but make it really challenging for him and he came through.
“We've talked about playing together and trusting each other, and even when things go bad you've got to trust each other and come back to playing as one.
“We got out of there a little bit and weren't trusting each other, but we got right back to it.”
Peninsula visits Olympic (0-10, 5-17) on Wednesday.
Peninsula 77, Everett 64
Everett 23 41 — 64
Peninsula 38 39 — 77
Brown Jr. 25, McCledon 10, B. Jones 8, Williams 7, Hamilton 5, DuChesne 3, Madigan 2, Diggs 2, Sanderlin 2, Hersi, N. Jones.
Dixon 25, Callaghan 16, Deng 14, Mayeux 8, Hobbs 6, Reis 6, Cook 2, Domach.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-452-2345, ext. 5250 or at email@example.com.