For the first part of the season, the main objective for the Denison Yellow Jackets was to be more competitive when they took the court.
There had been too many games in the past where the outcome was determined by half-time. Improvement — with a much faster pace — would be the first step in that direction.
As the Jackets get set to enter district play, there is a feeling of success in that regard. At the very least Denison is piling up points. The belief is more victories can follow.
Getting in position to move from the bottom half of the standings starts as Denison (5-10) travels to Wichita Falls Rider for the 5-5A opener today at 3 p.m.
After facing the Raiders, the Jackets are off until competing in the Caprock Tournament in Lubbock on Dec. 28-30. Denison returns to district play full-time on Jan. 2 when it hosts Denton.
Between now and then Denison has a chance to surpass its win total from a year ago. The Jackets were 7-23 and 2-10 in 5-5A contests, which did tie them with Wichita Falls and Denton Braswell for fifth place. And while the top four teams went to the playoffs — Denton Ryan and Denton shared the district title and Wichita Falls Rider and Sherman tied for third — the gap between fourth and fifth was six games.
“I don’t think the gap’s as large as it was last year. We’re better than we were,” Denison head coach Chet Byerly said. “Denton Braswell’s got all their guys back and is better. Any night there is an opportunity to come away with a win.”
With at least 16 games left in the season, Denison will have a chance to reach double-digit victories for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. The Jackets would be on the verge of that but three of their losses have been by five points or less, including Friday’s 78-77 overtime loss against Princeton.
“In the tournaments is where we’ve struggled. Four games in three days hurts us,” Byerly said. “The way we play, tournaments aren’t good for us. Once we get into a Tuesday/Friday routine I feel good when we’re playing with fresh legs.”
The one area where Denison is vastly improved is the ability to put the ball in the basket. Last year the Jackets topped 60 points in a game just twice — the last two games of the season.
So far this season there have been only two games where the Jackets haven’t scored that many. In three of their victories (Anna, Melissa and McKinney Christian) Denison finished in the 90s.
There have been a number of factors, the first being the team’s change in philosophy to speed up the tempo and have more possessions on the offensive end.
Another has been using depth the roster has been lacking. Denison had 11 of 12 players score against Princeton and frequently subs because of its new style.
“Usually they’ll go a minute and a half or so before new guys come in. We’ve got better shooters overall, more guys who can get hot and hit threes,” Byerly said. “Another thing that’s helped is offensive rebounding so we get those extra possessions and easy putbacks at times.”
Senior Mykel Anderson is leading the team at 16.6 points per game, classmate Dontre Flowers is next with 11 points and 4.1 assists, sophomore Tarrance Gaines is averaging 9.1 points, junior Rustin Workman is contributing 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds and junior Pierce Barker rounds out the top five at 6.6 points.
Injuries have played a factor lately as well. Workman missed three games with a concussion before returning last week, senior Jaylyn Robbins has been sidelined due to mono and senior Bubba Roberts is out with an ankle injury.
The Jackets are also waiting for the return of freshman guard Hagen Byerly, who suffered a foot injury during football season and is out until at least the calendar turns to January.
“When everybody’s healthy I envision us playing 14 guys. Having that depth, we’re going to use it,” Byerly said. “One game we had 10 different guys hit a three-pointer. I’m excited with our style and the kids are having fun with it. It’s a good mixture.”