It only takes a few minutes of watching a Dublin Coffman High School boys basketball practice to realize coach Jamey Collins' top priority.
It's all about defense for the ninth-year coach.
"About all we do in practice is work on defense," senior Adam Hall said.
That's why Coffman's 3-0 start heading into a game at Hilliard Darby last Tuesday was a bit of a surprise. The Shamrocks haven't been playing the suffocating defense that seemingly was a staple year after year.
But that could be changing. Coffman defeated Thomas Worthington 66-61 last Friday, and the Shamrocks showed glimpses in the fourth quarter of what Collins expects to see each game.
"We've struggled defensively so far," Collins said.
"It's probably the most we've struggled in several years. We've got a lot of new guys trying to figure out how we play, but the way we finished (against Thomas) was a promising sign."
The Shamrocks gave up just 44.8 points a game last year, a school record. It was the third time under Collins that the Shamrocks have broken the mark.
The 2004-05 team yielded 46.6 points a game and the 2005-06 team allowed 46.5 points.
Coffman gave up more than 60 points in a game just twice last year. It already has equaled that this season against Thomas and an 84-61 win over Westland on Dec. 10.
The Shamrocks, however, aren't overly concerned. Coffman's rotation features just one full-time returning starter and three regulars from a year ago.
"We've been working on defense a lot," senior Zack Riddle said. "A lot of people here have run different schemes. We have some guys who played on the (junior varsity) team last year and I was at a different school. But we're picking things up and playing hard."
The fourth quarter against Thomas is what Collins hopes can be duplicated over the full 32 minutes.
Coffman trailed 49-47 heading into the final period, but took a 52-49 lead on a 3-pointer by Hall and a pair of free throws from Eric Weisenbach.
The Cardinals trailed 54-53 with 5 minutes, 50 seconds to play.
That's when the Shamrocks' defense took over.
Collins called a timeout and the Shamrocks switched from man-to-man defense to a two-three zone. The Cardinals scored just eight more points, with five coming in the last 10 seconds when the game had been decided.
"When we called a timeout coach got on us about our defense," Riddle said. "We knew defense was going to be what won the game. The seniors got together and told the younger guys that we had to play hard, that we had to pick up our defense."
Riddle was active on the perimeter, pressuring the Thomas guards. Hall and Weisenbach, who played the fourth quarter with four fouls, were solid inside.
Hall had four rebounds in the period and Weisenbach had three blocks and a steal.
"We made some plays at the end," Collins said. "(Thomas) had a rhythm going and our zone helped. We're working on it. We want to become a better defensive team. It's certainly not for a lack of effort. But we need smart effort and that's what working on."
At a glance
Below are the recent results and coming schedules for the Dublin Coffman boys and girls basketball teams:
*Last Friday - Defeated Thomas Worthington 66-61. Zack Riddle scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half. Christian Heine had 13.
*Last Tuesday - Played Hilliard Darby
Tuesday - Home vs. Toledo Waite.
Of note: The Shamrocks were 3-0 overall and in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.
*Dec. 14 - Def. Upper Arlington 61-58. An 18-10 third quarter turned the game. Mackenzie Bailey, Meredith Stranges and Stacy Axner each scored 15 points.
*Last Friday - Lost to Thomas Worthington 51-47. The game was tied at 33 after three periods. Axner had 16 points and Stranges added 14.
Last Saturday - Def. Toledo Waite 67-41. Bailey had 24 points and 15 rebounds and Stranges added 16 points.
*Last Tuesday - Played Darby
Wednesday - At Lakota West Holiday Hoops vs. West Chester Lakota West. The Firebirds, who beat Coffman in a regional final in 2008 and 2009, are led by Massachusetts-signee Ronni Grandison.
Thursday - At Lakota West Holiday Hoops vs. Toledo Central Catholic.
Of note: The Shamrocks were 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Central before last Tuesday.