Above: J.J. Martin goes in for an easy layup against a Fort Madison High School player in Burlington High School's Southeast Conference boys basketball game on the road Friday night. Martin made five steals and turned three into fast-break layups as the Grayhounds beat the Bloodhounds 63-46. Martin finished with 13 points. The Grayhounds host Muscatine next Tuesday. Photo/Chris Faulkner
By Chris Faulkner
J.J. Martin likes to gamble, on defense that is.
Martin made several gambles Friday night for Burlington High School's boys basketball team and the effort paid off. His five steals — including three for breakaway lay-ups in the third quarter — and 13 points were part of the reason for the Grayhounds' 63-46 victory over Fort Madison High School in a Southeast Conference contest.
The Grayhounds improve to 10-3 overall, and 4-1 in the league. They're a half-game behind leader Mount Pleasant, which beat Fairfield 57-48 Friday. BHS' game with Keokuk on Jan. 6 was postponed until Jan. 24.
The battle of the Hounds was even in the first half, with the Grayhounds holding a slim 23-22 lead over the Bloodhounds at halftime.
To start the third, Fort Madison took a 28-27 lead. But then Burlington's defense clamped down and the Grayhounds finished out the quarter with a 14-1 run. Martin had back-to-back steals that led to baskets early in that stretch and scored the basket that closed out the period.
“I gamble a lot on my steals,” Martin said. “I'll go run out there and test (the ball handler). Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't. Tonight was one of my nights where I could read them good, poke that ball and get those steals for a lay-up.
“You've got to read the offensive player's eyes.”
Fort Madison made a little headway in the fourth and trailed just 43-36.
But Burlington made some more stops and pulled away for the victory.
“We kind of got a little more aggressive in our zone and our man-to-man, looking to get some traps in the passing lanes,” BHS coach Caleb Akey said of the key to his team pulling away after halftime.
“It was just more effort,” Akey said.
“I talk to the kids all the time, sometimes you're not going to score very well. To Fort Madison's credit – to our discredit, whatever the reason was — we weren't scoring,”
So, Akey said of his players, “They dug deep defensively. We had to get some stops, get some run-outs, and away we went.”
Although the first half was nip-and-tuck, Martin said Burlington was playing well defensively in the beginning, “denying everything” as well as scrambling for the ball after partial steals.
“Fifty-fifty balls, that's a big part of our game,” Martin said. “Get all the 50-50 balls, get on the ground. We're from Burlington; we're scrappy.”
Burlington's Merquiche Lewis was held to just eight points in the first half on 4 of 12 shooting. But he came out stronger in the second half. Lewis shot 7 of 9 from the field and had a 3-pointer and two three-point plays in the final quarter to finish with a game-high 25 points.
“You want other guys to contribute, but it's no secret, 'Quiche is our best player,” Akey said.
“He needs to step up and own that responsibility, and in the first half he didn't.
“He got a little frustrated, got a little pouty, and that second half he regrouped and decided to play. You saw what happens when he decides to play,” Akey said.
Bryson Tate added 10 points for Burlington. Nehemiah Lewis put in seven points and led both teams with 11 rebounds. Mateo Rascon had four points, and Christos Kantzavelos and Xzavion Baker added two points each.
The Grayhounds made just three turnovers in the second half.
They also shot 25 of 52 from the field and 12 of 15 from the free-throw line.
Boeding led the Bloodhounds with 13 points. Julian Dear scored eight, Hunter Cresswell and Aidan Boyer put in seven points each, and Rashid added six points. Dayton Lamar added three points and Nolan Guzman two.
BHS hosts Muscatine next Tuesday in a non-conference game.
Fort Madison drops to 3-7 and 1-5 and hosts crosstown rival Holy Trinity Catholic Saturday in a girl-boy doubleheader.