The Red Bank Lions are growling again.
And they're enjoying being on the basketball court more now than at any time during a dismal 2012-13 season when they lost 17 of the last 18 games -- by an average margin of 23 points -- to finish 4-26, according to coachT.com’s website. Included in the frustrating skid was an 81-48 loss to Hixson.
On Tuesday, it was a different story written by a much different team.
Red Bank built a 16-point lead in the second half, withstood a furious Hixson rally and held on for a 65-58 District 6-AA high school basketball victory – the Lions’ seventh this season.
“We work way harder this year and we’re more motivated,” said sophomore Kobe Suttles, who scored a game-high 16 points, including his team’s first nine to start the game. “We never got to .500 after our first two games last year. So this feels good to be seven-seven.”
Hixson salvaged a varsity double-header split when the Lady Wildcats, who are in first place in the district, went ahead by 19 points after three quarters and cruised to a 54-39 win over the Lady Lions.
Coach Corey Lazenby’s Lions trailed 2-0 on a putback basket by Hixson’s Robert Glass 45 seconds into the first quarter, but Suttles got nine of the game’s next 12 points for a 9-5 lead and the Wildcats never led again.
Three was Suttles’ magic number in the opening offensive binge. He two 3s and dropped in three free throws. The next time Suttles scored was on a 3 from the left wing with 35 seconds left in the opening quarter, giving him 12 of the Lions’ first 20 points.
“Suttles is stepping up and being a leader on our offense,” Lazenby said. “We were six freshmen deep last year with no floor leadership. This group is more team oriented and has a real focus on defense.”
While Hixson (4-5, 1-3) never overcame Red Bank’s lead, it did cut the Lions’ big lead to 59-56 with 1:49 left on a drive to the basket by guard Justice Alameda.
Suttles drove the lane for a layup as the Lions (7-7, 2-1) outscored the Wildcats 6-2 down the stretch to preserve the win, a game Suttles isn’t sure they would have won last season.
“No, sir,” he said, “I don’t think we would have won a game like this last year. We didn’t work hard last year. We didn’t give our best effort all the time, but I know we’re better now and last year has motivated us. We want to improve and be better than we were.”
Red Bank got a 3 from Malik Beavers with 40.6 seconds left in the second quarter for a 35-29 halftime advantage.
Beavers, one of four Lions in double figures with 12 points, opened the third quarter with a layup and then Malik Davis duplicated Beavers’ play and the Lions had their biggest lead of the game at 39-29.
Hixson’s QuDarius Smith’s layup stopped the Lions short run, but Red Bank’s Tradell Autry drained a 3 and Suttles dropped in a floater to give push the margin to 44-31.
When Beavers nailed a 3 with 1:02 left in the quarter the Lions had their first 17-point lead at 53-36.
“Red Bank shot the ball extremely well,” Hixson coach Alex Disbrow said. “We weathered the storm in the first half to stay with them. No matter what defense we were in they were making shots, and some were well-contested.
“Their little guard (Suttles) is sneaky quick and makes the right reads when he gets to the rim. I’ve never seen a Red Bank team shoot like this. They’re hard to guard.”
Hixson never quit on Disbrow.
With the deficit at 53-36, the Wildcats went on an 18-5 run – it ended on layups by Christian Harden and Alem Diaz, a 3 by Chandler Abbott and two free throws from William Nelson – and sliced the Lions’ lead to 58-54 with 3:38 remaining.
Red Bank’s Johnny Goodman hit 1 of 2 free throws to end a 4-minute, 5-second scoreless drought and push the lead to 59-54 with 2:01 on the clock.
Still, the Wildcats wouldn’t go away.
Alameda drove the baseline to trim the deficit to 59-56 at the 1:49 mark.
Suttles drove the lane for a layup.
Smith did the same thing for Hixson and the margin was 61-58 with 1:20 left.
Goodman made a layup off a Malik McConnell assist with 44.1 seconds on the clock and after four straight misses from the free-throw line, McConnell hit two free throws for the final seven-point spread.
“This team has definitely matured a lot,” Lazenby said. “We’re sharing the ball on offense better, but the foundation of our team is still defense.”
William Davis scored 14 points for the Lions and McConnell finished with 10.
Smith was the only Wildcats player in double figures with 12 points. Diaz had 11 rebounds and Abbott pulled down eight.
“We fought our tails off to get back in the game,” Disbrow said. “We cut it to three, but then ran out of bounds and fell down (for turnovers). My kids never game up and I’ll never get after them for playing their hearts out.”
Disbrow said the Wildcats hit just 14 of 25 free throws (56 percent) and were an abysmal 16 percent (4 of 25) from 3-point distance.
“But we were still in the ballgame, but those numbers don’t equal a victory,” he said.
In the girls game, Hixson’s Cierra Taylor’s performance was instrumental in the district-leading Lady Wildcats (9-1, 5-0) never being seriously challenged by the Lady Lions (1-14, 0-3).
Taylor scored a game-high 17 points, including two 3s.
T.T. Staten added 10 points and McKenna Massengale tossed in nine, all in the first half to help Hixson build a 22-12 halftime lead.
Still, Hixson coach Matt Smith wasn’t all that thrilled with his team’s overall performance.
“Red Bank outplayed us in every area of the game,” he said. “We just made a few more shots than they did. Red Bank out-hustled us, out-rebounded us and seemed to want it more than we did.
“Right now we’re not playing like a first-place team, but having said that we are a good basketball team. We’ve got East Ridge and Central coming up right after the Christmas break and we’ll know a lot more about where we stand then.”
Sophomores Danielle Usher and Autumn Babb lead Red Bank with 15 and 11 points, respectively. Babb made two of the Lady Lions’ four 3-pionters.
The Lady Lions led 30-16 late in the third quarter and outscored the Lady Wildcats 9-1down the stretch to open a 39-20 advantage.
Hixson freshman Shawnquell Standfield hit a field goal and Taylor, a senior, made two free throws and the Lady Wildcats’ lead swelled to 43-20 starting the fourth quarter.
Red Bank outscored Hixson, 19-15, in the fourth quarter, but never got closer than 14 points of the lead.
Red Bank 6 6 8 19 – 39
Hixson 10 12 17 15 – 54
Red Bank (39) – Autumn Babb 11, A. Brown 9, D. Brown 3, Danielle Usher 15, Jones, Hughes, Maddox.
Hixson (54) – Yates 4, Cierra Taylor 17, T. T. Staten 10, Massengale 9, White 2, Rivers 1, Standfield 6, Nelson 2, Johnson 2, Jett 1.
3-Point Goals: Red Bank 4 (Babb 2, A. Brown 2); Hixson 2 (Taylor 2).
Red Bank 20 15 18 12 – 65
Hixson 15 14 11 18 – 58
Red Bank (65) – Davis 3, Kobe Suttles 16, Pittman, Goodman 7, Autry 3, William Davis 14, Malik Beavers 12, Malik McConnell 10.
Hixson (58) – Alameda 8, Nelson 5, QuDarius Smith 12, Beatty 2, Carver, Cooper 2, Glass 0, Daiz 2, Parker, Abbott 9, Weaver 2, Harden 2, Coleman 2.
3-Point Goals: Red Bank 8 (Suttles 3, Beavers 2, Autry, Davis); Hixson 4 (Alameda 2, Nelson 1, Abbott).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)