Knights make statement

Tom Batters
Jontell Lindsay

After he nailed a long-range three-point shot that touched nothing but the net, Jontell Lindsay pumped his fist and got the look of a hungry lion as he sprinted back down the court to play defense.

Lindsay scored seven of the first 10 points for Richwoods in a 72-60 win over Manual Dec. 19.

He finished the game with 23 points and five assists.

His enthusiasm was infectious as the Knights out-played the state-ranked Rams in every facet of the game. The fans, who filled the Richwoods gymnasium to standing-room-only capacity, also appreciated the Knights’ effort. The gym was raucous, and it felt like a postseason game.

The win gave the Knights early supremacy in the Mid-State 6 Conference race, but it also sent a strong message to the other teams in the conference:

Look out!

The Knights are the most athletic team I have seen this year (or over the past couple years, for that matter).

Against Manual, I was amazed at how much faster they seemed to play than any other team I had watched so far this season.

Lindsay and fellow guards Tylon Deal and Aaron Davis have explosive speed, and they constantly look to drive to the basket. This makes things hard on opposing defenses.

If they are not penetrating to the basket, the Knights are setting up their motion offense, which is a lot of fun to watch, especially for a “basketball junkie” who appreciates the art of setting screens and moving without the ball.

Richwoods players do not waste time on offense. They pass the ball around like it is a hot potato. They dart in and out of the defense. If somebody stands around for too long, coach Mike Ellis shouts, “Move!”

This effective passing and disciplined motion offense leads to high-percentage shots.

And the Knights are loaded with skilled shooters, who always seem to take smart shots.

Mason Alwan, a junior who transferred from Peoria Notre Dame, was six-for-nine from the field with three three-pointers in a win over Springfield Lanphier Saturday.

Like senior James Roberston last year, Alwan has the kind of shooting stroke that looks like it should be used in a “How to Shoot a Basketball” instructional video. He can hit from long range and he has a nice touch on short jump shots.

The Knights are equally as tenacious on defense. They are not a very big team, but they completely shut down Manual’s big men in the post.

I recently called Ellis to talk about my case of Knights fever, but he suggested that I take a deep breath and calm down a bit.

“The Manual game was a big win, but it was just one game,” he said. “It only takes one bad night to erase that. If we come out sluggish and lose, then the Manual game doesn’t mean much.”

Oh well.

I’m not going to let an over-cautious coach ruin my train of thought.

The Knights are not just good, they are spectacular. If Dick Vitale was calling one of their games, he would need to take a tranquilizer to curb his enthusiasm. “They’re awesome with a capital A baby!”

OK. Maybe I’m getting carried away.

Still, I stand behind my main point, which is: Richwoods is the best team in the Mid-State 6 Conference so far.

Up until Dec. 19, I would have said that Manual was the quickest, most athletic, most well-coached team in the area. But, Richwoods made the Rams look slow, unorganized and frustrated on both ends of the floor.

I haven’t even mentioned the Knights other strengths; Depth, free-throw shooting, experience, coaching, turnover-to-assist ratio, rebound margin...

The Knights may experience a bump in the road here and there. It is tough to make it through the Mid-State 6 Conference without being tested once or twice.

However, if the Knights keep playing this well (and getting better), then they will win this conference.

Peoria Notre Dame is promising, but the Irish are young and they already have two conference losses. Peoria Central (minus DJ Richardson) and Peoria Woodruff are talented, but they cannot match the depth and talent of Richwoods.

Manual will still contend, but the Knights grabbed a big early advantage with the win Dec. 19.

Now we’ll have to wait and see how the Knights respond to having the target on their backs.

Their next conference game is at Peoria Notre Dame Jan. 9.

Stay tuned...