SHERIDAN — Each time Tongue River High School senior Justice Rees and junior Sam Patterson step on to the court for a game, there is a good chance the 6 foot 6 forwards have a height advantage over their opponent.
The success Patterson and Rees have on the court is a product of the two players pushing each other every day in practice. Neither player has a clear height advantage in practice, allowing for no easy days.
“[Patterson] and I have been going at it in the posts because we know we have to prepare each other… We know the harder we work for each other is going to help out in the long run,” Rees said.
Going against each other creates a high level of competition for the two players and that level of competition forces players to grow.
Rees said there are not many teams at the 2A level that has one player near their height. If they do, they usually do not have a second player at that height.
Patterson said when the opposing team puts their tallest post player on one of them, the other has an advantage in the post.
Rees and Patterson work together to find the mismatch and look to take advantage of it. Both players will draw attention of the opposing team’s defense. Rees said this helps open the game up for the rest of the Eagles.
Patterson said playing unified basketball is the team’s foundation.
The Eagles average 13.6 assists per game, the second-highest average in 2A.
Head coach Tyler Hanson said depending on the opponent, he will either have Patterson and Rees on the court at the same time or have them rotate court time with each other.
Both players are athletic and have long arms. This allows the Eagles to run any defense they want, maintaining the aggressive style of play.
Rees and Patterson believe the biggest impact they can have on the game is not lighting up the scoreboard, but instead controlling the rebounding battle.
Rees said in recorded losses this season, the two were out-rebounded.
The ability to control the glass will be important in the final weeks of the season at the 2A West regional tournament in Riverton Feb. 27-29 and the 2A state tournament in Casper March 5-7.
The Eagles have a tough test in the final week of the season against Rocky Mountain High School Feb. 21.
Rocky Mountain is currently in second place in the wyopreps.com coaches and media poll and has been in the top two positions all year long.
Hanson said they are one of the favorites to win the 2A title at the state tournament. The Eagles played Rocky Mountain tough the first game. Tongue River had the lead entering halftime but Rocky Mountain retook the lead early in the third quarter. The Eagles hung tough before free throws separated the two teams at the end, giving Rocky Mountain a 63-58 victory.
Rocky Mountain has a solid post player in Taylor Winland, who averages 15.4 points per game on 70% shooting and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Rees said Winland had 10 points in the first meeting from slipping screens. He and Patterson will need to take points away from him.
This is where having two post players come in handy. Rees and Patterson can front Winland in the post, preventing an easy entry pass. If Rocky Mountain tries to lob a pass over the top, it has to clear a lot of height, giving the Eagles’ help side defense plenty of time to move into position.
Patterson said when both he and Rees are on the court, one can front in the post and if the pass manages to get past the first defender, the other player is there for backup. No matter what, Winland will have to shoot over a tall obstacle.
Hanson said both players have improved in becoming walls, creating tough shots for the other team instead of always trying to block a shot. This is a time when Hanson might rotate Rees and Patterson with each other, keeping a fresh defender on Winland.
Rees said the team will also need to close out on Rocky Mountain’s shooters. Rocky Mountain is a well-balanced team and is a good test for the Eagles as they head toward the postseason tournaments.
Tongue River girls play at 5:30 p.m. Friday and the boys play at 7 p.m. Tongue River finishes the regular season at Shoshoni Feb. 22.