Defensive pressure gives Edgewood win in area opener

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald

Senior JC Bush (4) looks to drive during the first half of Edgewood’s win over Lowndes on Friday night.

Edgewood outscored Lowndes Academy by 16 points in the second quarter and rode its defense to a 55-39 victory in its are opener Friday night. JC Bush led the offense with 13 points and four assists as the Wildcats improved to 13-4 on the season.

“Any win in area play is nice to have,” Edgewood coach Darryl Free said. “Starting off 1-0 is a good momentum builder. We go into so many area games back to back to back, we need to ride this momentum wave.”

Bush scored four points in the opening quarter as Edgewood jumped out to a 10-9 lead after eight minutes of play. The Wildcats never trailed in the first quarter but they took it to the next level in the following frame.

Edgewood opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from Robert Stewart off an assist from Brady Davidson. After a free throw from Lowndes, the Wildcats scored the next 14 points, capped by a steal and layup by Jackson Welch which forced Lowndes to call a timeout.

“The second quarter was a turning point for us,” Free said. “We gelled the most in that quarter. We played some really good defense and that led to some offense. We had some guys hit some big shots in big situations to propel that lead.”

Kam Burleson added another 3-pointer before the quarter ended to give the Wildcats a 30-13 lead at halftime. Kaleb Varner finished the first half with three steals, all leading to points for Edgewood.

“He’s definitely a defensive weapon,” Free said. “We want his defense to create offense for us and we give him some freedom to do that. His athleticism allows him to take some gambles.”

Varner finished the game with seven steals and was second on the team with 11 points, eight of which came in the second half. He added four rebounds and two blocks.

“It’s not just me, it’s about my teammates behind me,” Varner said. “Creating chaos, helping me out and getting stops.”

Lowndes outscored Edgewood in the second half but the lead was never cut to single digits. The Rebels called a timeout with 4:37 to go in the game after cutting their deficit to 11 points but baskets by Varner and Austin Patrick quickly extended the lead to put the game away.

The Wildcats finished with 12 assists in the game and used balanced scoring throughout the night to earn a win. Jackson Welch was the third player to reach double figures, scoring 10 points, while three other players scored at least five points.

“One of the things we focused on is sharing the ball and looking for the open guy,” Free said. “We had gotten away from that over the last couple of weeks. We have to take what the defense is giving you and we did a good job of that tonight.”

Free and the players spoke highly of the home atmosphere during the game. A packed student section helped fuel the second quarter and brought energy to the team on the court.

“Winning our first area game feels really good,” Bush said. “It’s really important. The student section showed up tonight.”

Edgewood will wrap up the regular season with four more area games over the next two weeks. The Wildcats dropped out of the ASWA rankings last week despite owning one of the best records in AISA and they look to make a statement with the remaining games on their schedule.

“We play to a standard that we create,” Free said. “We have a lot of room to get better and we have to get better before the tournament. We know that so we’re going to keep working.”