Their 7-foot center may have been missing Friday night, but that wasn’t a problem for the Salem Capitals when the West Coast Breeze came to town.
Even without Kylor Kelley, the Capitals dominated inside in the 137-102 win, scoring 74 points in the paint.
“That’s always a focus for me,” Capitals head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. said. “I’m an inside out type of guy, throw it in, we don’t got anything, pass it out for open shots. But today it just happened to work out that way.”
It looked to be the focus from the start. In the first quarter, 20 of Salem’s 28 points came in the paint.
They outrebounded the Breeze 65-42, including 22 offensive rebounds, leading to 34 second chance points for the Capitals.
Domo Lawrence slid into the starting lineup, and he, starting power forward Mauricio Smith and Jameel Tolbert more than made up for Kelley’s absence. Lawrence and Smith both had double-doubles. Lawrence put up 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Smith had 17 points and 13 boards.
Even with the impressive stat line, Smith started quietly with just six points in the first half.
“I think I came out a little flat today, but I started to pick it up in the later quarters,” Smith said. “But I was able to make a change in time, so I’m proud of that.”
Tolbert scored 16 points in nearly 25 minutes on the court, both season-highs for him, while also chipping in 5 assists and 4 rebounds. He’s averaged just under 12 minutes and 4 points a game this season.
The Capitals scoring attack was balanced as it tends to be. Friday night they had eight score in double-figures.
“We can go deep in our bench and everyone has a chance to score,” Johnson said. “If I look at our bench, I see everybody on there can score. So that’s how I want it to be because any given night, anybody can score points and there’s no way to really stop that.”
Preston Whitfield had a team-high 27 points for the Capitals off the bench.
This season, Whitfield has provided an offensive spark with the second unit. He’s second on the team in scoring, putting up just under 19 points per game.
And Friday he was feeling it before the opening tip.
“I felt good during warmups, I got a lot of shots up during warmups,” Whitfield said. “I was knocking a bunch down, so I guess it carried over to the game.”
Despite how Whitfield was feeling before the game, as a team the Capitals came out slow to start. The Breeze opened the first quarter building a 12-point lead before the Capitals cut into it.
It’s been a common theme all season, even in the wins, Salem’s offense can take some time to find its way. Maybe it’s because of the balanced attack, riding the hot hand from game to game at times.
But Johnson doesn’t have a problem with that part of it.
“I like it that way because when the team comes in to play us, how do you scout us?” Johnson said. “If everyone’s scoring and there isn’t one focal point, they don’t have to focus on one player or two players. So I like the fact that we got a bunch of guys that can score.”