Tyner coach Gerald Harris admits it was a risky decision, one with possible long-lasting repercussions.
He was, of course, referring to choosing to play Tyner's District 6-AA opener on Valetine's Day. Not only did every other home team opt to play its first-round game on Friday, few coaches were in evidence to see the Rams' 78-45 demolition of the unpredictable Hixson Wildcats.
Harris laughed that it was going to be hard enough to justify playing on the 14th; he was sure that scouting trips were out of the question.
"Going to have to make it up to my wife, playing on Valentine's Day," said the Ram coach. "But here we are and everybody else has to play tomorrow. And we don't play again until 6 o'clock Saturday."
By taking advantage of having the girls also in action (and winning convincingly), the Tyner teams now have a bit of a leg up going into Saturday's semifinals at Hixson. Oh, by the way, the Rams are also the hottest team in the region after putting up their 10th straight victory Thursday night.
"But this was a scary game, because we're all starting over," Harris explained. "But every night, we always say where we start out defensively is the most important thing. Tonight, our defensive intensity was there from the beginning."
The Wildcats, who have thrown a major scare into more than one district foe this year, took more than four minutes to put a bucket in the scorebook Thursday. By then, it was already 13-4 as both of Tyner's guards, Sadik Spence and JeMichah Bowman, hit the court in full attack mode. The tandem scored or assisted on all 13 of those Ram points en route to a combined 37-point performance.
Spence did what Spence has done all season -- make his teammates better. He finished with 18 points 12 assists and six steals. Bowman's performance was an even biggest boost.
"Bowman's been playing it really smart," Harris said. "He makes those split-second decisions and the decisions he's been making are good ones. He played really well tonight."
Bowman led the Rams with 19 points, 17 coming in the first half.
Harris further explained that his guards' aggressiveness freed up the post for Bristen Bridgemann. Likewise starting hot,
Bridgemann scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half. The Rams took a 24-point lead into the dressing room, 47-23. Hixson left a bundle of points at the line, hitting only 5 of 15 foul shots in the first two quarters.
The Wildcats, whose play was "personally embarrassing" to Wildcats coach Alex Disbrow, played a marginally better second half against the mix of Tyner starters and reserves. But missing the chance to compete for the district title on home hardwood stung.
"We were terrible all-around," the downcast coach said. "We came in tight, we missed three layups in our first five possessions. Then we compounded that by not being able to stop them. And that's on me."
Hixson will return much of its roster next season, but Disbrow and the the Wildcats fans had to bid farewell to the spectacular D'Monta Smith. The senior, who topped 1,500 points for his career in his final home game, had a virtually "average" final night with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
"He'll be one of my favorite players," Disbrow said. "He wasn't always perfect, but he gave everything he had every night. He was one of the few who showed up tonight."
Chandler Abbott was the only other Wildcat in double figures, totaling 12.
Lady Rams Avoid Another Central Ambush
Their regular season loss to the Central Lady Pounders was still fresh in the minds of the Tyner Lady Rams Thursday night as they rolled to victory in the opening game of the District 6-AA tournament, 50-34.
The Lady Rams (9-15) held an 18-3 lead after a quarter -- enough to allow them to play Central virtually even for the final three periods. But even that might have been a tall order had not Kesha Parks come alive in the fourth quarter.
After three points in the first three periods, Parks scored nine of Tyner's 16 fourth quarter points to keep order when Central twice threatened to cut the lead below double figures.
"We didn't rebound so well in the last game, so that was a point of emphasis tonight," said Tyner coach Latwanya Arnwine. "You've got to want to put a body on a body and go after the ball."
Parks and Delway Hines scored 12 points each for the Lady Rams. Central (9-14) got 11 points from India Corley and 10 from Sandra Sylman.
"We started the game playing flat-footed," said Central coach Rick May. "That's not who we are, that's not what we do. If we had played them early the way we played them in the second half, we would have been all right."
District 6-AA at Tyner
Central 3 7 13 10 -- 34
Tyner 18 9 7 16 -- 50
CENTRAL (34) -- S. Jones 1, Powell 2, Sandra Sylman 10, India Corley 11, Mitchell 2, McReynolds, Rogers 7, Davis, Prater, N. Jones. Ransom.
TYNER (50) -- Turner 9, Montgomery 5, Smith 2, McElvain 6, Kesha Parks 12, Delway Hines 12, Roberts 4.
3-point goals: Central 4 (Rogers 2, Sylman 2); Tyner none. Records: Central 9-14; Tyner 9-15.
District 6-AA at Tyner
Hixson 13 10 10 12 -- 45
Tyner 24 23 19 12 -- 78
HIXSON (45) -- Alameda 3, Nelson, D'Mondta Smith 18, Hayes 2, Diaz 7, Chandler Abbott 12, Novene 3, Glass, Wilkey, Dodds, Bates.
TYNER (78) -- Sadik Spence 18, Bristen Bridgemann 12, D. Rollins, L. Rollins 5, JeMicah Bowman 19, Hardwick 8, Watkins 2, Howard 2, Waller 2, Watson 6, Jones 4.
3-point goals: Hixson 2 (Alameda, Novene); Tyner 5 (Bowman 2, Jones, Rollins, Spence). Records: Hixson 10-18; Tyner 18-6.