The Hixson Wildcats will have to win a tough road game in the first round of next week's District 6-AA tournament in order to enjoy a home court advantage in the later rounds. Friday night's performance on Senior Night against the tough Brainerd Panthers should have the rest of the district rooting for Hixson to be one and done.
The Panthers, by the margin of two Jay Besley free throws with eight seconds left, fended off the Wildcats 71-70 in the regular season finale for both teams.
In a game where there were 13 lead chances – nine of them in the first quarter alone – the Panthers took the lead for good, 67-66, with 1:08 remaining on two foul shots from Tyree Stubbs. But there was a lot of drama remaining.
Hixson's go-to center, D'Mondta Smith, who had already fouled out Brainerd center Orlando Moore in their head-to-head duel, attempted unsuccessfully to penetrate the Panthers' zone. He had to settle for an off-balance jumper that the Panthers claimed.
After a timeout, Hixson fouled Demarcus Otis (one of Brained coach Robert High's preferred shooters with the game on the line) with 20 seconds to play. Otis missed both free throws. But eight seconds later, Otis went from goat to hero by swatting the ball away from Smith, the ball glancing off the Wildcat's leg and going out of bounds. Besley was fouled a split-second after the inbounds pass and he did not miss his two chances.
Down 69-66, the Wildcats' point guard Allante Novene was fouled at midcourt, but the senior – playing perhaps his best game of his senior year – hit both of his foul shots to make it 69-68. Marques Tipton was fouled one second later and he coolly converted, but the Panthers somehow left Hixson gunner Chandler Abbott wide open for a would-be game-tying 3. It deflected off directly to Novene, who put it back with one second left to account for the final margin.
“With the game on the line, we want Besley, Tipton or Otis shooting free throws,” Brainerd coach High explained. “What does he do? Misses both ends. But then he makes the steal. Does it make up for missing the two free throws? No, it does not.”
High also didn't sweat Abbott's final shot. “From where we were seeing, I could see it was off-line. I said, 'It's off.'” High said.. “Our guys don't realize it, but you need a game like this going into the tournament. We (cancelled) the Austin-East game, but we have plenty of time now to work on things in practice.”
Before the fourth quarter drama, the night was a Can You Top This matchup between the Wildcats' Smith and the Panthers' junior post, Orlando Moore. Despite sitting out the entire second quarter, Moore fouled out with 1:03 remaining to finish the night with 23 points on 11 of 15 shooting with four rebounds. Smith's night consisted of 25 points (8 of 17 shooting), eight rebounds and 8 of 10 foul shots.
“It would have been a good matchup, but Moore got into foul trouble and two of them were what we call stupid fouls,” High said. Taking up the slack were Besley (14 points, 10 assists), Devonte Cooper (nine points) and Stubbs (six points, eight rebounds off the bench).
Hixson, which led by as much as six (39-33) early in the third quarter, got 14 points from Novene and high praise from his coach, Alex Disbrow. “Big plays, a big 3-pointer, a clutch shot. He came through like a senior on Senior Night,” Disbrow acknowledged. “I am very proud of my team tonight, but it is still being proud in defeat.
“We have to win a road game, but we know we are capable,” he added.
Abbott ended the night with 11 points and Allan Diaz scored 10 for a much-more balanced Hixson attack that normal. The Wildcats end the regular season 10-17, while Brainerd takes a 12-11 record into the playoffs.
Lady Panthers Close Out Regular Season With Romp
Freshman Jamee Ward scored 25 points and teammate Aisha Douglas bombed four 3-pointers en route to 16 points as Brainerd rolled over Hixson 52-30 in the regular season finale for both teams.
Ward, Brainerd's fabulous freshman, hit 6 of 6 foul shots, as part of improving the Lady Panthers to 12-11 overall for the season. Hixson was led by Marissa Hill's 10 points on Senior Night.
Brainerd 22 11 23 15 – 71
Hixson 20 16 17 17 – 70
BRAINERD (71) – Jay Besley 14, Marques Tipton 13, Demarcus. Otis 3, Glenn, Moore, Shropshire 2, Orlando Moore 23, Cooper 9, Stubbs 6.
HIXSON (70) – Almeda, Nelson 3, D'Mondta Smith 25, Hayes 7, Allan Diaz 10, Chandler Abbott 11, Allante Novene 14. 3-point goals: Brained 3 (Besley 2, Tipton); Hixson 8 (Abbott 3, Novene 2, Hayes, Nelson, Smith).
Records: Brainerd 12-11, 10-4 in 6-AA; Hixson 10-17, 3-10 in 6-AA. Brainerd 24 8 13 7 – 52 Hixson 5 3 6 11 – 30
BRAINERD (52) – Woods 2, Anisha Douglas 16, Rowland 4, Walker 2, Jamee Ward 25, Ellis 1, Robinson 2, Ashley, Sparks.
HIXSON (30) – Marissa Hill 10, Taylor 4, Harmon 8, Staten 5, Massengale 1, Slaughter 2, Nelson, Johnson, Raber, Yates, Fernandez, Newberry. 3-point goals: Brainerd 6 (Douglas 4, Ward 2); Hixson 2 (Harmon 2). Records: Brainerd 12-11, 9-3 in 6-AA; Hixson 10-12, 6-6 in 6-AA.