Salem Capitals

Familiar problem catches up to Capitals

The final scores may have looked different, but something looked very similar about the Capitals’ 35-point win on Friday and three-point loss on Saturday.

It’s something they’ve seen throughout the season — inconsistent energy.

“It’s been a recurring thing with a lack of energy,” Isaiah Gentry said following Saturday’s 111-108 loss to Bakersfield. “It showed throughout the first half. We just started too late.”

Late is one way to put it. The Capitals came out flat on Saturday, opening the game shooting 30% and going just 1-for-11 on 3-pointers in the first quarter.

They never led in the game, and trailed by as much as 17.

“Today they played harder than we did, we had a lack of effort every single time we were out there,” Capitals head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. said. “The first group that went in, no energy to start the game. Second group went in, no energy. But then the third group, which is the first group again, we had energy, we went on a nice run to close the quarter and then the same thing happened.”

The Capitals were able to cut into the deficit multiple times and gave themselves a shot for the tie as time expired.

With three seconds remaining, Salem trailed by three. Johnson called a timeout, something he had elected not to do the previous two times this season that the Capitals had a final shot at the tie or win.

But this time there was less time on the clock, and a half-court set was perhaps a better option than running the length of the court.

Paul Hafford inbounded for the Capitals as the Big Horns swarmed the 3-point line. Preston Whitfield broke free towards the basket, and was Hafford’s only option. Whitfield tried to kick the ball back out to Hafford, but the Wenatchee defenders filled the passing lane.

“We had two different options for a three point shot, but it wasn’t there and the ball got passed in,” Johnson said. “I wish he would’ve just laid it in so we could try to foul again and draw up another play, but it just didn’t work out that way.”

And while things didn’t work out Saturday, nearly everything was working for the Capitals the night before against Wenatchee.

The Capitals had 74 points in the paint and shot 8-for-22 on 3-pointers. They led by 17 in the first quarter, mainly behind Psalm Madukor’s 11 in the quarter, and 10 points off of eight Wenatchee turnovers.

“We came out with energy and we played well from the start, which I feel like we haven’t been doing,” Johnson said. “We’ve been playing catch up a lot of time.”

But when the starters sat to start the second quarter on Friday, the same problem showed itself.

“It was just a lack of energy in the second group that came in,” Johnson said. “But other than that, it was nothing more. I mean we got some turnovers right away and that just led to them scoring and we were able to improve that later on with the second group.”

The Big Horns cut the deficit to 10, but an 11-0 run once the Salem starters returned brought the lead up 21.

In all they went on a 23-4 run to close the quarter and went into halftime up by 29. They led by as much as 36 in the second half.

With Friday’s win, the Capitals are 3-0 this season against the Big Horns. Entering the week, that was the current 3-6 playoff matchup. But Johnson and the Capitals aren’t thinking ahead to postseason matchups.

“Our goal is to get better each game, so we’re trying to win no matter who we’re playing,” Johnson said. “No matter if we’re in last or we’re first. It doesn’t make a difference at this point for us.

“We don’t want to peak at the beginning of the season. We want to do that towards the end of the season and play our best basketball towards the end. So with that being said, this is another stepping stone for us to improve and get better each game.”