Salem Capitals

Capitals return from All-Star break with big win against Volcanoes

It looked like they had something to prove.

The Salem Capitals came out of the TBL All-Star break ready for Friday’s 124-94 win against the Vancouver Volcanoes on both ends of the court.

And maybe they did have something to prove following a 117-109 loss in Vancouver the last time they met on April 1.

“We don’t like losing, period, but playing against them it’s like a rivalry situation because they’re the closest team to us,” Capitals head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. said. “We had to play them 14 times last year, this is the third time this year.”

The 124 points is the most the Capitals have scored since a mid-March matchup with these same Volcanoes, a 125-93 win for the Caps on March 12, and they hit the century-mark in the third quarter.

But perhaps more impressive were the 35 points they scored off of 22 Volcanoes turnovers.

“That was a part of the emphasis,” Johnson said. “The last game we played them they got a lot of 50-50 balls, they got a lot of charges taken, we had a lot of turnovers based on that. I’ve been preaching all through practice that we need to play harder than them.”

The Capitals were active on defense from the start. Those 22 turnovers weren’t a matter of the Volcanoes being sloppy with the ball, Salem had 16 steals from eight players, including some at key moments. 

Isaiah Gentry closed out the first half with a steal in the back court with less than 4 seconds to play, then got the layup plus the foul to send the Capitals into the locker room up 69-47. 

The Capitals shot 58% both from the field and from behind the arc in the first half to help build that 22-point lead. They cooled a bit in the second half, finishing the game at 52% from the field and 41% on 3-pointers.

Tyreek Price had 22 points off the bench in the first half, including 19 in the second quarter. Price shot 81% from the field, going 6-for-8 on 3-pointers.

“Once I saw it going in I just kept shooting it,” Price said.

While their intensity on the court looked like they had something to prove as a team, Capitals starting point guard Allen Billinger Jr. looked like he had something to prove himself.

Billinger finished with a game-high 29 points and 3 steals, and the lone all-star representative from either team was uncharacteristically staring down and talking with the Vancouver coach on nearly every one of his 11 made field goals. 

“I’ve always had the dog in me,” Billinger said. “Conversations were had before I went to [that all-star game] so I made sure to make it a point this evening to be aggressive and sort of set the tone for my team.”

The Capitals had three score at least 20 Friday night. Billinger and Price were joined by Preston Whitfield who had 20 off the bench. 

Seven-footer Kylor Kelley finished with another double-double for the Capitals, his third in three games played. Kelley had 14 points, going 6-for-9 from the field, along with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. 

He’s now been with the team for three weeks, after getting just two practices in with the Capitals prior to his first two games of the season.

“Week-by-week, every practice I’ve been getting more comfortable with these guys and getting to know how they play,” Kelley said.

With all the hot shooting and hustle plays from the Capitals, the Volcanoes were still able to claw back into the game, at one point cutting the deficit down to 12 as they went on a 12-0 run in the third. 

“We weren’t getting back for defensive transition, that was a big part of it, and we missed some shots” Johnson said. “We got lucky and made a couple shots, and that was the end of it.”