LAS VEGAS — Trailing by three points at halftime, coach Brenden Straughn preached the defensive intensity that got Team Takeover to this point.
Jalen Smith heard the message loud and clear.
The 6-foot-10 Maryland commit scored 19 points, 13 of them in the second half, and Team Takeover literally took over in the second half and got revenge on the Oakland Soliders, winning The 8 championship 78-72 on Friday at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas.
“He’s been our best player all year,” Straughn said of Smith. “He stepped up in the biggest moments and he put us on his back to make sure we got this victory.”
TTO got a second crack at Oakland less than two weeks after the Soldiers defeated TTO in the Peach Jam finals. Coming into this rematch, TTO was adamant about not losing to Oakland twice in a month.
The D.C.-based squad trailed 38-35 at the half, but Straughn told his team, simply, to clamp down on defense and the rest will follow. TTO opened the second half on a 19-8 run, anchored by Smith scoring 10 points of his own in that span.
He chipped in with two blocks during that stretch, as well.
“I started attacking the rim a lot more (in the second half),” said Smith, who picked up three first-half fouls. “It started opening things up.”
TTO’s defense, meanwhile, shut down Oakland’s backcourt of James Akinjo and Kihei Clark.
Akinjo, the Salesian High School point guard, had nine assists but scored 10 points on 3-of-18 shooting. Clark, the long-range specialist, took only five shots in the final 16 minutes and made two layups.
“When the pressure’s on us, we stay focused,” Smith said. “Our defense depends on our offense. Once we get our defense going, our offense follows.”
TTO held Oakland to 39 percent shooting in the second half.
“We dug in on that end,” Straughn said. “We knew if we wanted to win that championship, it was going to be because of defense.”
Smith is one of nine seniors who played his last AAU game Friday for Team Takeover. He’ll play his final year at Mt. St. Joseph before beginning his collegiate career with Mark Turgeon in College Park.
For him and his teammates, Straughn can’t think of a better way for his guys to go out, especially given the opponent.
“To end the summer off as champions, given they beat us last time,” he said, “it’s only right that we came here and won this one.”