ORLANDO — There was no way around it for Eric Jones: It had been a disappointing week.
Even with the West Orange boys basketball team’s big 86-82 overtime victory against Ocoee on Dec. 17, the Warriors (6-4) had dropped their other two contests and weren’t satisfactorily competitive in a 63-41 loss at Boone on Dec. 19.
“I was hoping to be, at worst, 2-1 (this past week),” Jones admitted. “Ocoee was a big win, but I would still like to come in and be able to compete a little bit better against everybody.”
Indeed, perhaps the biggest difference between the big win and the frustrating loss — games that took place within just two days of each other — was the third quarter.
In both games, the Warriors struggled early. West Orange trailed Ocoee at halftime, 38-26, and Boone, 33-23. Against the Knights, though, the Warriors won the third quarter, 28-15. Against the Braves, who have won seven of their past eight games now, West Orange struggled out of the half — taking nearly four minutes to score a field goal.
The Warriors were without standout senior guard Jeremiah Thornton. Still, what should be one of the team’s greatest assets is its depth — West Orange has a roster full of players that are capable of playing extended minutes and contributing.
“We have a little bit more depth so I expect the depth to be our strength,” Jones said. “(We’re lacking) consistency, offensively and defensively. (We need) to play a little bit harder on the defensive end and a little bit smarter on the offensive end.”
That the Warriors have depth is evident, as is the complication of that fact — the team still needs to gel.
“Chemistry is vital,” Jones said. “We’re going to spend some time over the break together … as much as we possibly can.”
West Orange began the season with four straight wins before dropping consecutive games to Apopka and Evans. There there has been an up-and-down nature to how the team has played, with impressive wins (Timber Creek’s only loss came to the Warriors, Ocoee had started the season 7-0). Transfer guard/forward Quinton Forrest has made an immediate impact for the team and players like Thornton and Decary Croaker also have been vital to the squad’s success.
The losses, though against good teams, haven’t been as close as Jones would like, though, with an average margin of defeat of 12.75 points.
All of that considered, Jones still has big expectations for this group — in both the short and long terms. West Orange is 2-2 so far in district play, placing the team right in the thick of things in Class 8A District 3 despite some of its struggles.
In the immediate future for the Warriors, though, is the Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala at Vanguard High School. In addition to giving West Orange a chance to play some high-level competition and for Jones to further asses where the team needs to improve, the games over the break are another opportunity for the Warriors, which use nearly all of their players in their game-to-game rotation, to gel.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Jones said of the tournament, which will begin for West Orange on Friday, Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. against Vanguard.
“Honestly, I think anything less than three wins is probably a slight disappointment.”