The Long Beach Poly boys’ basketball team is looking to win its 13th consecutive Moore League title this year, which would be a league record. Head coach Shelton Diggs knew that Monday night’s league opener on the road against Wilson would be one of the toughest tests for a Jackrabbit team that’s without senior leader and playmaker Christian Watson, and that’s still finding its offensive identity.
Still, great team defense and a tremendous effort from freshman Jovani Ruff were more than enough to start Poly’s league slate with a win on the road, 65-39.
Ruff had 18 points for the Jackrabbits to lead all scorers, and his polished offensive game continued to impress, with Poly old heads struggling to remember the last time Poly had a freshman as well-rounded as Ruff.
“He’s so unselfish we’re almost trying to make him shoot a little more,” said Diggs. “He came in just trying to be a part of the team and after a few games it’s like, you’re not just part of the team, you’re a main part of the team.”
His skills were such that Wilson was running a double-team at him in the first half, holding him to just four points before he was able to get loose in the second half, with a one-man 7-0 run in the third quarter as part of a dominant eight-minute stretch for Poly that put the game away.
“I’ve been excited for this since the Summer, I was just working out and wanting to play,” said Ruff. “I was ready to go. I had a slow start but my team picked me up in the locker room.”
While the absence of Watson has forced the Jackrabbits to look to other players to pick up the scoring burde, Ruff didn’t seem bothered by that.
“Chris is a good player but I’m a good player too, and my team knows I can do it too,” he said.
It was a frustrating game for the Bruins and coach James Boykin. Wilson was shorthanded and hung with Poly for the first half, but Boykin wasn’t satisfied with that.
“We just ran out of gas in the second half,” said Boykin. “It’s not a moral victory thing with these guys–they had guys missing and we had guys missing, so it’s a level playing field and I felt we should have fared a little bit better.”
The Bruins were led by Jake Deleray’s 12 points; he was the only Wilson player to reach double digits. Poly was led by Ruff’s 19, as well as 11 points from Daniel Hardy, and nine each from Darron “Buddha” Henry and Gabe Cummings.
The most impressive aspect of the game for Poly was the Jackrabbits’ defense, which held Wilson to seven in the first quarter, seven in the second, and nine in the fourth quarter. It was a dramatic change for Poly–the program has long been known for its hard-nosed defense, but came up short in that area last season. This year has been a big turnaround.
“(Assistant coach Reuben Williams) and I talked about it a lot, we didn’t really have time to put our defense in last season, this season we said that’s the top priority and we spent basically our entire offseason on it,” said Diggs. “It’s part of why our offense is slow right now, we were really focusing on defense. As long as our defense stays good and we’re still holding teams to 40 points, our offense is going to catch up.”
Wilson will visit Lakewood on Wednesday while Poly won’t play another league game until after the Winter Break.