'A gritty win': Rams pick up first opening-night victory since 2016 with win over Shelby

MADISON TOWNSHIP — As the final buzzer sounded at Madison Middle School, the Rams walked off the court victorious in the 2022-23 season opener over Shelby, 67-53.

The Rams won on the scoreboard, but the dominated in the statistical categories that are nearly impossible to track. Toughness, attitude, effort, hustle, diving for loose balls, all of the plays that don't directly show up in the scorebook, only their byproducts.

Madison did it all.

The Rams (1-0) beat the Whippets (0-1) for the first time since Feb. 10, 2018, and won their first season-opening game since 2016 behind a gritty performance.

"If we are gritty, I think we have a chance," Madison coach Chris Armstrong said. "We have some size, but we are not huge. We really have to compete on the boards, but tonight was a gritty win. Shelby is a very good team with a lot of size so tonight was a great win for us."

After taking a 31-25 lead into the halftime locker room thanks to a first half where they never trailed, the Rams used that momentum to cruise to a victory. The Whippets did tie things up at 35-35 with 4:28 left in the third quarter, but the Rams outscored Shelby 7-2 the rest of the way to head into the final eight minutes with a 42-37 lead. Jayden Jeffries only had two points in the third quarter but exploded in the fourth with 15 of his game-high 35 points in the final frame.

When the Rams needed a big bucket, they looked to Jeffries. Late in the fourth, he rolled his ankle and hobbled around trying to loosen it up. When play resumed, he caught a lob toward the basket and finished through contact putting the finishing touches on a career night.

"That is why I like my teammates," Jeffries said. "It is a huge responsibility, but a good group of guys supporting you makes the job a little easier."

His 35-point performance tied him for the 13th-highest single-game scoring performance in Madison High School history joining the likes of legends like Don Kunkel, Larry Hock and even all-time scoring champ Ryan Pore.

Jeffries gave all of the credit to the preparation heading into the 2022-23 season and the team chemistry the Rams built over that time.

Madison's Jayden Jeffries led the Rams with 35 points in an opening-night victory over Shelby on Friday night.
Madison's Jayden Jeffries led the Rams with 35 points in an opening-night victory over Shelby on Friday night.

"We did prepare really well for this game, but the chemistry we have within the team does it all," Jeffries said. "If you have good chemistry within the team, things seem to work out well."

The Rams came into the year as a relatively unknown with just two seniors, two juniors and a load of underclassmen. On Friday night, they proved they are a team to be taken seriously. Aside from Jeffries's 35, freshman Seven Allen broke onto the scenes in a huge way with 15 points including a huge 3-pointer with five minutes left in the game to give the Rams a 50-43 lead that ignited a 17-10 run to close out the game.

"Seven is a terrific young point guard," Armstrong said. "It is going to be a lot of fun watching him grow up and develop. He played well tonight, but he will be the first to tell you that we cannot be satisfied and the goal will be to come back and get better tomorrow. He has a great future and his decision-making will continue to get better and better."

Armstrong was pleased with his young guys. Sophomore Cameron Kuhn had six points with two 3-pointers junior Will Kepple added four and Brady O'Brien added two.

"To be honest, we have a lot of new faces, only two seniors, two juniors and a lot of sophomores and freshmen, so I was actually very curious to see how we would come out," Armstrong said. "I know what we can be and we showed tonight what we can be, but when the lights come on Friday night in that first game, they can be very bright. Our young guys responded well and Jayden and Tatum(Turcott) led us the right way and it helped us pick up a win in the opener."

If Jeffries led by example, Turcott led with emotion. He still scored four points, but it was his competitive attitude that lit a fire in the entire team.

"Tatum is the extreme competitor and now it is about using that and not going over the line with it and using it to our advantage," Armstrong said. "Jayden is a warrior and was terrific tonight. He loves to play, loves being in the gym, worked very hard on his game and his body and got in shape. He is so hard to guard with his abilities inside and outside. We want to play through Jayden initially and let the game slow down for the young guys and be solid on defense and make teams shoot pull-ups and let us control the glass."

Jeffries couldn't have asked for a better start to the season.

"We are a young team, but everyone is determined," Jeffries said. "We didn't take a whole lot of time off after last season ended because we knew we were going to have a young roster coming back. But as we showed tonight, we are excited for this year."

Shelby's Alex Bruskotter had 22 points in the Whippets first season-opening loss since 2016.
Shelby's Alex Bruskotter had 22 points in the Whippets first season-opening loss since 2016.

The Whippets got 22 points from junior Alex Bruskotter and 10 from junior Casey Lantz while senior Max Hess added nine. No other Whippet scored more than five points. It is the first time the Whippets started the season 0-1 since 2016.

"Credit to Madison," Shelby coach Greg Gallaway said. "Coach Armstrong has those guys playing very hard and I just love the energy that team has. That is the type of energy we are looking for and we just don't have it right now. Those controllable of guys playing hard on defense every possession and winning loose balls. They had it from the start and we didn't. They beat us every quarter and it wasn't even close. You have to credit those guys and how hard they play. I have a lot of respect for them."

The Whippets went 6-for-16 from the free throw line and made four 3-pointers as they showed a little bit of rust on opening night especially on the defensive end where they allowed Jeffries and Allen to nearly outscored them alone.

"I think it is a wakeup call," Gallaway said. "Our guys have to improve on a lot of our deficiencies tonight like guarding the basketball. Their freshman point guard is very quick and we couldn't keep the ball in front of us with him handling it all night. He did a great job. He controlled the pace and then you have to deal with a guy like Jayden Jeffries who is a four-year letterman. He tore us up. That is a credit to how good he is. We have to step up to that challenge more."

The theme heading into next week for the Whippets will be finding toughness and that will start within the team itself. They have a week to figure things out before traveling to Pleasant on Friday night to start the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference season.

"It is the million-dollar question," Gallaway said about teaching toughness. "How do you teach that? The big thing is we just have to be more consistent with it and that will start in practice. How tough are we going to be in practice when we run our competitive drills? Will we learn from tonight's mistakes? I think you can only reiterate that as a coach and hopefully, the players can lead each other to be tough. You either have it or you don't and we didn't have it tonight."

The Rams will host Clear Fork on Tuesday night as they get two home games to start the season. If they can bring the energy they brought on Friday night, there is no reason the Rams can't start 2-0 since 2016-17.

"We didn't let down or fluctuate," Armstrong said. "Sometimes in the preseason, our energy fluctuated because we were young, but tonight, we always seemed to have the answer and it was because guys didn't just try to make the plays themselves. They kicked out to a better shot and when we make the extra pass and we bang a 3, that is a great thing for us. That is what I am most proud of."

The Rams hope to build on the win on Friday night as they seek their first winning season since 2017-18 after finishing last year .500. It was a great start with the win over Shelby, but Armstrong is ready to turn the page and get ready for a long season ahead.

"You can't focus on the results, but it has to be all about the process," Armstrong said. "We always talk about what we can control with our attitude and our effort, sprinting the floor and boxing out. So the question for the weekend is, are we going to be satisfied or are we going to get 1% better on Monday? That will be the difference in if we will be a winning team or not this year."

jfurr@gannett.com

740-244-9934

Twitter: @JakeFurr11

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Madison Rams win opening boys basketball game over Shelby. 67-53