Everett Community College men’s basketball coach Mike Trautman watches as sophomore point guard Gio Jackson (center) throws a pass Tuesday during a practice session in the Walt Price Student Fitness Center in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett Community College men’s basketball coach Mike Trautman watches as sophomore point guard Gio Jackson (center) throws a pass Tuesday during a practice session in the Walt Price Student Fitness Center in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Defense key to Trojans’ early success

Everett is ranked fourth, Edmonds fifth in latest NWAC coaches poll.

The Everett Community College men’s basketball team has played a tough non-North Region schedule, filled with teams that qualified for the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament a year ago. That fact hasn’t bothered Trojans coach Mike Trautman, who was eager to find out how his young team — which consists of 11 freshmen and just three sophomores — would respond to challenging sitauations early on.

EvCC has overcome those challenges, exceeded Trautman’s expectations and has become, for now at least, one of the top squads in the NWAC. The Trojans have an 11-3 record and a No. 4 ranking in the latest NWAC coaches poll.

“We started 10-2, and the two games we lost we felt we gave away, so we could’ve been 12-0. I’m very happy with our record,” Trautman said. “When we put our schedule together, wanted to test them (early) because we knew they were so young, and they’d have to grow up fast, and they have.”

EvCC has played efficiently on both ends of the floor. The Trojans are averaging 86.1 points per game thanks mainly to their 3-point shooting (9.5 made 3s per game, 10th in the NWAC), free-throw shooting (18.9 made per game, second in the NWAC), rebounding (43.6 per game, sixth in the NWAC) and passing (19.5 assists per game, fifth in the NWAC).

The team has been led by the play of its two returning starters — point guard Gio Jackson and wing Connor Moffatt.

Jackson, from Federal Way, is averaging 15.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game. Moffatt, a Spokane native, is leading the team with 17.5 points per game.

“They’re our two best players,” Trautman said. “Gio is really good all-around. He can score, leads our team in rebounding as a 5-foot-10 point guard and defends the other team’s best player. He’s a leader. Connor is a big body at 6-foot-3 and does it all for us.”

But Trautman said the main reason his team is where it’s at right now is the play of its defense. EvCC is holding its opponents to 77.8 points per game and 42 percent shooting from the field. Both figures rank in the top six in the NWAC.

“We don’t play help (defense) a ton, and we don’t play zone. We just play man-to-man and try to keep things simple, and we’ve defended really well,” Trautman said. “With so many new faces on the team, they’re starting to understand where they’re supposed to be (on defense) and get into better position.”

EvCC is enjoying its nice start, but knows that it will have to retain its level of play to finish in the top four in the North standings and qualify for a spot in the NWAC Tournament, to be once again played at the Walt Price Student Fitness center on the EvCC campus in March.

One team the Trojans will have to watch out for is Edmonds Community College, which like its region rival won 10 of its first 12 contests. The Tritons are tied for fifth place in the latest NWAC coaches poll.

EdCC (10-3) has unequivocally the NWAC’s best offense. The Tritons are first in the conference in points per game (99.6), field-goal percentage (50.5), free-throw percentage (81.5) and assists per game (24.1).

“Our players have a lot of offensive gifts, so I knew we’d score the basketball,” said EdCC coach Kyle Gray.

“They’re committed to sharing the ball, not turning it over, and making a concerted effort to play together. They’re passing up good shots for great shots. They’re making sure the ball’s moving.”

Tritons sophomore Zach Walton, a 6-foot-6 forward from Morton-White Pass, has been one of the NWAC’s best players so far, averaging 20.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, shooting 57.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from the 3-point line.

“We had high expectations for him last year, but he got hurt,” Gray said. “We have him back this season, and he’s been everything we thought he’d be and more. He’s a great leader. All of the other guys know to get him going early and often to set the tone for the whole team.”

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