While much of the havoc Cresskill wreaks out of its halfcourt man-to-man is attributable to the way defenders press tight on the ball, Emma Campbell prefers to be a master of deception.
The senior forward sags ever so slightly off whomever she’s guarding to give the impression a pass in that direction is a safe one. The ploy is nothing more than a well-designed ruse to entice such a feed and create the opportunity for Campbell to exhibit both her anticipation and aggressiveness in the passing lanes.
“I’m willing to let someone look like they're open when they're actually not,” Campbell explained. “I know eventually they are going to pass it my way. So, I’ll take a step back to set my feet and then step in.”
Campbell has thievery down to an art form. She accounted for six of the 17 steals unbeaten Cresskill reaped in a defensive masterpiece that fueled a 51-24 victory over Bogota on Tuesday in Cresskill.
“We feed off our defense,” Cresskill coach Mike McCourt said. “We didn’t press as much as we like but the way we played in the halfcourt, we didn’t need to. Emma averages around five steals a game because she is so quick to the ball. All I have to do is try to get them in the right positions. The rest takes care of itself and it’s fun to watch.”
The assertive style of a Cresskill defense that is allowing just 26.7 points per game transcends seamlessly into its fast-break offense. Players release immediately on turnovers and are rewarded with quick outlets that find their intended targets ahead of the field for easy layups.
Cresskill (12-0) put all that together during a 21-0 run that transformed an early 5-2 deficit into a 23-5 cushion by the midway point of the second quarter. Within that span, Cresskill induced 11 of Bogota’s 22 turnovers and those miscues were parlayed into eight points by the Cougars.
“We pressure the ball pretty well,” said Campbell. “We’re used to playing off steals and turning them into fast breaks.”
While Cresskill never allowed Bogota (7-6) to establish any offensive flow, such was not a problem for Ava Skinner. The junior guard repeatedly found her favorite spot along the baseline and feasted off both jumpers and powerful drives to pump in 14 of her game-high 22 points to help build a 23-9 halftime lead..
“That’s my shot,” said Skinner, who went 10 for 17 from the field, of her affinity for finding a seam along the end line. “Whenever I have the chance to get open there, I gravitate to that spot.”
Jackie Azelby struck a balance between distributor and finisher for Cresskill. The senior guard handed out three of her seven assists in the decisive tear and scored five of her 12 points in the first eight minutes.
“It’s important for a point guard to be as selfless as possible,” said Azelby, who had 12 points and six rebounds. “Especially when you have a team that always has people open and they are consistent.”
It was a driving layup by Azelby with 4:34 left in the opening period that got Cresskill a 6-5 lead it never relinquished. And, she buried a pair of 3-pointers during a 13-0 run in the second half that pushed the advantage to 51-22.
The performance by Cresskill was a defining one for a squad drilled on the concepts of team basketball. Of the 20 field goals it made, 15 were accompanied by an assist while nine different players pulled down at least one rebound as the Cougars cleared 26 boards.
“It’s nice as a coach to see something you work on in practice carry over to the game,” McCourt said. “It doesn’t happen like that all the time, especially on the defensive end.”
Senior guard Jillian Marino topped Bogota with eight points to go with four rebounds, two steals and an assist while sophomore forward Steph Perpepaj collected six points, eight rebounds and a block.
Shabazz 68, Columbia 29: Zaire O’Neil was a force inside for No. 1 Shabazz (12-1), accumulating 16 points and 12 rebounds. De’Ashia Jones added 14 points and eight rebounds while Aliyyah Handford scored 15.
Immaculate Heart Academy 76, Clifton 26: Junior guard Samantha Wilkes went 4 for 6 from the field, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc, en route to 13 points for IHA (11-2), which raced to a 44-16 lead by halftime. Lindsey Khoury had 13 points and Lindsey Rogers netted 10.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @GreggLerner