Fifty-seven points seems to be the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team's offensive target.

Fifty-seven points seems to be the Licking Heights High School boys basketball team's offensive target.

Entering an MSL-Cardinal Division game against Berne Union last Saturday, the Hornets were 8-0 when scoring at least 57 points and 0-5 when they didn't.

Several things must fall into place to get there, however. One of the most obvious factors is tempo. Maintaining the ability to penetrate is another.

"Teams have been successful when they slow the pace in zone (defenses) against us. They pack it in and take away our driving lanes," coach Nathan Clark said. "That's something we've got to get better at handling, no question."

The Hornets faced such a situation again last Wednesday against visiting Grandview and lost 39-35, slipping to 4-3 in the league. They scored a season-low point total in the process.

"When teams do that, it forces us to shoot the 3(-pointer) and that's not our game," Clark said. "Penetration is the key in our system."

Licking Heights led most of the way, but the Bobcats to score the game's final seven points. It was the team's second consecutive MSL-Cardinal loss after also falling 55-43 against first-place Harvest Prep on Jan. 22.

"We got caught in a half-court game there at the end," junior guard Deonte Holder said after last Wednesday's game. "They had the right defensive sets."

Clearly, the Hornets are at their best when they use their athleticism to force the issue and can attack in transition. Staying out of foul trouble is another key, and that's perhaps especially true inside where the team has less depth. Their defensive game plan can work against them at times, too, as was the case against Grandview.

"We knew sitting in a zone defense of our own we weren't going to push the tempo to our liking," Clark said. "But we tried running against them in the first game and lost by 13 points (66-53 on Dec. 12)."

So striking a better offensive balance remains the key to consistent success. Simple pull-up jumpers on the break and mid-range shots in the half-court offense also have been troublesome at times.

"One of our Achilles heels is that we haven't shot the ball very well in our losses," Clark said. "But when an opponent takes one thing away from you, you have to find something else that will work."

Still, Clark believes last Wednesday's loss is a learning experience.

"We haven't been in very many close games. It seems like we've either won big or lost big," he said. "This was something new for our kids and we made some young mistakes. Hopefully, we'll do better the next time we're in a situation like that."

The Hornets were averaging 62.6 points entering last Saturday, but that number was 73.3 during the eight victories and 43.6 in the five losses.

They'd like to return to the kind of play that enabled them to go undefeated for nearly a month, posting seven consecutive victories between Dec. 18-Jan. 16 as points seemed easier to come by, and better in-game adjustments will be paramount the cause.

Tim Smith, a 6-foot-4 senior center playing organized ball for the first time, averages 11.1 points and junior guard Eyob Tadele 10.9.

"(Opponents) are trying to keep us from running. When that happens, we have to be able to change things up and find different ways to get the job done," said Holder, who has been the team's most consistent scorer at 12.9 points per game.

"I guess we're still learning that."