Without a quarter to spare, Howard basketball coach Walter McGary found the right change to his lineup to get the job done Tuesday night. Facing a relentless East Ridge on the Pioneers' Senior Night, the new combination outscored the home team by 10 in the fourth quarter en route to a 69-59 verdict.
McGary's mix wound up being a heavy dose of Brandon Walters, of course, as the big center (who won't be acting on his future on National Signing Day after all), posted 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
But a big complement inside came from Xavier Harris (14 points) and perhaps the two most crucial pieces, Lorenzo McCawley and Rashad Brummitt.
Versatile guard McCawley has been the unofficial captain of McGary's “small” team in recent days, but found himself in the fourth quarter working with the rest of the usual “big” starting five. Brummitt, on the other hand, never came off the court Tuesday as he played roles in both lineups.
Their chemistry, combined with some fatigue by an unexpectedly short-handed East Ridge lineup, allowed Howard to pull away late after the Pioneers shocked the big crowd by tying the game at the end of three periods.
“Lorenzo gave us a dimension the game didn't otherwise have,” said McGary. “He added quickness, as well as headiness. He's smart, and fearless, too.”
“Brummitt – he's a warrior,” the coach said with a nod. “He's a winner, and right now we need that from him.”
Both sides expected a close battle all night, and the Pioneers made the first statement when J.J. Johnson, one of only two seniors honored before the game, dropped a big 3-pointer on the Tigers. But Johnson's big night went sour in a hurry, as shortly afterward he was sent to the dressing room and was not seen in uniform the rest of the night after what workers at the scorers' table called a verbal altercation.
The other senior, Derrick Davidson, contributed 15 points to the Pioneers' effort, but 10 of them came as part of the too-little, too-late fourth quarter. The big horse this night was Eddie Hitchcock, who could not be slowed. He hit five treys and finished the night with 29 points. But only two came in the fourth quarter after he posted 13 in the third period to bring the Pioneers all the way back from a 10-point deficit when it was at 25-15.
At 10-2 in 6-AAA, the Hustlin' Tigers are up two games with two district contests remaining. But they have the tie-break over second place Brainerd, so Tuesday's win clinched the top seed for the upcoming tournament to be held in Hixson's gymnasium.
Smartt Steals Seniors' Thunder With School Record 41
Howard senior Deroneasha “Nee Nee” Smartt stole the spotlight from the East Ridge High seniors in their final home game Tuesday, scoring an unofficial school record 41 points in the 65-43 victory.
Smartt hit 18 field goals, all two-pointers, and five foul shots in putting together her big night. But there was a huge “what if?” aspect to her performance, as she was only 5 of 18 from the foul line, starting the game with a dismal 0-for-9 streak.
But horrendous foul shooting has been a regular obstacle for the Lady Tigers to overcome. Despite a 2-for-15 first half and 9-for-33 performance, the win was the Lady Tigers' 10th of the season.
NuQeilla Robinson added 10 points to the winning performance, while East Ridge was led by 11 from Leashia Taylor. The poor foul shooting was contagious, as East Ridge hit only 6 of 18.
Howard 17 18 12 22 – 69
East Ridge 13 16 18 12 – 59
HOWARD (69) – Smith 5, Cameron 6, Xavier Harris 14, Brandon Walters 21, Lorenzo McCawley 11, Brummitt 9, Byrd, Young 1, Brown 2.
EAST RIDGE (59) – King 1, Tillery 4, Davis, Millener, Talley 3, Derrick Davidson 15, Eddie Hitchcock 29, Johnson 3, Hendrix 4.
3-point goals: Howard 2 (Smith, McCawley); ER 8 (Hitchcock 5, Davidson 2, Johnson). Records: Howard 17-4, 10-2 in 6-AAA; East Ridge 10-13, 5-7 in 6-AAA.
Howard 15 13 17 19 – 65
East Ridge 2 9 16 16 – 43
HOWARD (65) – Davis 1, Rollins 9, Johnson, Nee Nee Smartt 41, King 2, C. Smartt, Williams 2, NuQeilla Robinson 10, Fitch.
EAST RIDGE (43) – Halfacre 9, Billingsley, Ieashia Taylor 11, McKibben 5, Epps 2, Finley 6, Norwood 2, Hubbard 2, Lawrence 2, Calloway 4.
3-point goals: Howard none; ER 3 (Taylor 3). Records: Howard 10-6, 9-2 in 6-AAA; East Ridge 4-19, 2-10 in 6-AAA.