It was different during the Bulldogs’ tourney opener Monday. In dispatching Jacksonville Christian 70-24 in Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum, they played almost exclusively zone defense and never pressed.
It’s hard to see Anniston (12-10) playing that kind of game in Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with Chris English-led Weaver, but this season’s Bulldogs have a big picture — bigger, even, than the county tournament.
“This is a different group, younger group,” Anniston coach Schuessler Ware said. “Basically, we’re just trying to get them to go out and enjoy what they’re doing and stay within the program, doing what we need to do to prepare for postseason.”
Anniston has one player, Monquavious Frazier, who saw regular playing time a year ago. He was among the first two players off the bench.
Ware has a whole new cast of regulars, and he has spent the first two-plus months of the season testing the Class 4A Bulldogs against eight higher-classified teams. The schedule so far has included 6A Carver-Montgomery, Gadsden City and Thompson and five games against 5A opponents.
It’s all designed to toughen the Bulldogs for area tourney play.
“We’re real young, so we’re trying to get the younger guys to get up and play their role that they’re supposed to be playing,” said Mauriceco Massey, who tied Quinterious Croft with a team-high 14 points Monday. “We’re just trying to get stronger and play together.”
Anniston was clearly the stronger team against Class 1A JCA (5-13) on Monday, which is why Ware went with a 2-3 zone defense. The Bulldogs got runouts off of missed shots and turnovers but did not press.
“We’ve played them several times in the first round, and I know, in the past, Coach Ware plays whatever he needs to play,” JCA coach Tommy Miller said. “We go way back, and when he sees that he’s got the ballgame won, he’s not going to do anything to embarrass you.
“I think he knew tonight there was a big difference in size, personnel, depth, everything.”
Anniston got balanced scoring, with Quintavious Dobbins adding 12 points and Quindarious Jackson scoring 10.
JCA got half of its points (12) from Dakota Crook.
“After the first few minutes, we got Dakota to go to the basket some,” Miller said. “He did well. He went to the basket strong and made some shots in the first half off the baseline, and he can do that. That’s his strength.”
Though Miller’s team was overmatched, he saw encouraging signs.
“I felt like that we didn’t get intimidated, and we played all we can play,” he said. “I felt like we battled on the boards hard.
“We were at a disadvantage, height wise and physically, but Daylon (Brackett) really battled on those boards and Dakota. We had a tenth-grader, Chris Armbrister, when he was in the game, he really battled on the boards, so it was good to see that.”
Anniston’s big picture starts with its next game in the county tournament, and Ware made no bones about it. The hot-shooting English and Weaver won’t see much of the 2-3 zone.
“He’s going to get some pressure,” Ware said. “He can get ready for it.”
Anniston has won the county tournament 15 times, including three in a row from 2007-2009. The Bulldogs made the finals in 2012, losing 42-39 to Oxford.
This year, Anniston is seeded behind No. 1 Oxford and No. 2 White Plains, but the Bulldogs see no slight. It’s all about the big picture.
“Basically, we just want to get better,” Ware said. “With the season and the schedule we’ve played so far, as long as we can see progress each game, and that’s all we can ask of them.”
Said Massey, “We came out pretty bad, but I told the team, we’ve got to step it up. If we want to go to state, we have to step it up as a team.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.