When AJ Casey has it going, there’s no doubt how deadly Whitney Young can be.
Against St. Laurence in the Dolphins’ second game of the season Sunday, the junior forward scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half after dealing with foul trouble through halftime. Casey’s play, combined with his team’s sense of urgency on both ends of the court, helped Young escape with a 63-62 over St. Laurence, despite a late rally from the Vikings.
When Casey and teammates were all clicking, it showed why they are thought of so highly around Illinois.
This game had various ebbs and flows: Young started strong off of three steals from Casey. He has great anticipation that, coupled with his speed and length (he’s listed at 6-8), wreak havoc on opponents. In this early season, the Casey steal-and-dunk to bring the house down is already a familiar sight.
Despite the strong start for Young, St. Laurence fought its way back into the game on Darius Wilson’s back. The 6-2 senior scored 10 of his team’s 16 first-quarter points to keep the Vikings within striking distance.
At halftime, the Dolphins led 30-24. The third quarter was a shift for Young. The Dolphins came out energetically and locked in on both sides. Seniors Jaeshon Thomas and Grant Newell set the tone early. Newell, a mainstay on Young’s varsity the past two seasons, was diving for loose balls, rebounding and scoring around the rim. Thomas contributed on the glass and scoring, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.
Casey went on a run where he was responsible for nine points, knocking down back-to-back threes on assists from sophomore point guard Dalen Davis, then returning the favor for Davis’ own three. Davis finished with 17 points and five assists.
After three quarters, it looked as the Dolphins had put this game away with a 54-37 lead, but the Vikings never gave in.
St. Laurence kept chipping away with seniors Aaron Wofford and Eddie Martin helping out their fellow senior Wilson. The Vikings forced turnovers and took advantage on the other end.
With under 30 seconds to play, Young clung to a 63-57 lead. Young’s Thomas missed a free throw, then Wilson came down and converted a quick two. Holding a 63-59 with 18.5 seconds left, Newell had a chance to put the game away, but he also missed his free throw.
With a chance to extend the game again, the Dolphin’s length and activity — their calling card of the young season — helped them in the end. Casey forced a missed shot at the rim. The Vikings grabbed the offensive rebound and ultimately knocked down a three, but the swarming Young defense forced too much time to run off the clock.
With their third game in as many days, the Dolphins start their 2021 season 3-0. They have a long, lengthy team that, when engaged, can just shut down an opposing team’s offense. That third-quarter run is a glimpse of what the Dolphins can be.