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Patriots clash with Hornets

Linden hosts John Essex tonight in a game that carries with it significant area implications.

“With a win (tonight) and a win Friday, we automatically host the area tournament,” Joe Eatmon, head coach of the first-place Patriots said.

Linden, who lost to JEHS 53-51 when the teams met Dec. 16, heads into tonight’s affair riding the momentum of a six-game win streak. Conversely, the Hornets enter the contest on a four-game skid.

“We’re really not looking at the streak that we’re on,” John Essex head coach Rodney Dixon said of his team, which dropped three consecutive games to teams of a higher classification before losing to Sweet Water on the road last Friday. “The guys are up and ready to play.”

The game, while a rematch on paper, will likely bear little resemblance to its predecessor, as both squads boast significant differences than their club makeup from nearly a month ago.

The Patriots have since added senior point guard Martez Owens to the lineup, allowing them to shift senior Ajalon Bruno to shooting guard and balance out their offensive attack.

Dixon has made his own insertions, having added junior transfer Curtis Witherspoon to the rotation.

Each team has also seen an increase in production from certain players whose emergence will likely alter the opposing gameplan drastically.

“It kind of helps us now that a lot of other guys are making shots,” Eatmon said.

His team has seen Bruno, Owens, Shantrell Braxton, Andrew Rogers and Gerald Bruno each post multiple double-digit point totals. The team’s ability to rely on those players helps remove the pressure from primary scorer Kendarius Goodwill and prevents defenses from being able to focus entirely on him.

“It makes them a real dangerous team,” Dixon said. “Now (Eatmon) can take the focus off Goodwill and go to the other four players on the floor.”

Dixon’s Hornets utilized a box-and-one defense in the squads’ previous meeting, limiting Goodwill to six points. The first-year head coach concedes that he will need a different approach this time around.

“I’m out of the box-and-one,” Dixon said of his defense.

The Patriots also face a stiff defensive challenge as they will be forced to limit JEHS leading scorer Zackary Fluker.

“I’ll put my best defender on him and we’re going to battle,” Eatmon said.

Linden must also keep its foul total down tonight. In round one of the rivalry, the Pats allowed freshman Letrelle Griffin to score 13 of his game high 16 points at the free-throw line.