Ballou's boys basketball team last night was no different than most teams that get jitters for their league opener, but the Knights gathered their composure midway through the second quarter and handily dispensed with host Theodore Roosevelt in a 67-40 Interhigh League victory.
"I knew that once they got their heads on straight," said Ballou Coach Wanda Oates, "that they were going to be able to run the fast break to perfection and play that pressure defense that we're noted for."
Though an uptempo style is to its advantage, Ballou (5-2) never forced the pace and trailed the Rough Riders by 14-10 at the end of the opening quarter. Eventually, Ballou fell behind by 19-12 with 6:55 remaining in the period.
Then senior guard Keith Thomas, one of the veterans who is essential to the Knights' success, stepped forward.
Thomas (12 points) scored five of seven unanswered Ballou points as the Knights forced three turnovers to tie the game at 19.
Forward Reginald Bland (game-high 16 points) gave the Knights a lead they would never relinquish on a follow shot for a 29-28 lead with 2:20 remaining in the first half.
Holding a tenuous 33-29 advantage at the half and with its confidence and the tempo in check, Ballou came on full bore to open the second half.
Unnerved by Ballou's pressure defense, Theodore Roosevelt (3-4) barely had an opportunity to look toward the basket, much less get off a good shot. With their offense reduced to merely trying to keep the ball from being stolen, the Rough Riders could only muster four points during the decisive period.
Meanwhile, Ballou was taking advantage of a bevy of Theodore Roosevelt turnovers to ignite its fast break. Thomas and Bland had four points apiece during the run with Thomas also adding a couple of beautiful assists.
Andre Whitehead led Theodore Roosevelt with 12 points.
"We had to speed up the pace because they were smaller than we were," said Oates. "They were taking advantage of us slowing the pace down because we're a fast-paced team and not a slow-paced team."