In its season opener on Friday night, two of three Canadians with highly acclaimed reputations as pure shooters – Therron Szmidt and Nickeil Walker – went a combined 0-for-13 in Hamilton Heights’ 58-48 win over The Rock in the inaugural Hawks Havoc basketball round robin at Chattanooga State before a crowd of about 500.
Throw in the other Hawks who missed 3s, and that includes Shai Alexander, the third Canadian who was 0-for-2, the team went an embarrassing 0-for-17 in the opener.
A day later, Szmidt and Walker regained their shooting touch.
The gym was nearly empty and fans in the stands could still see rough edges on the Hawks two games into the season.
But Szmidt and Walker weren’t firing blanks and the Hawks defended tenaciously enough to blast Wesley Christian, out of Allen, Ky., 68-40, to improve their early-season record to 2-0.
Szmidt and Walker never hesitated in putting their deadly 3-point shooting on display, and they showed no-ill effects at all from Friday’s sub-par effort.
They quickly found the range and when the blowout victory ended, they together had made 6-of-11 from behind the arc and combined to score 25 points, 11 more than they produced on Friday.
“(Friday) we couldn’t find the basket at all,” the 6-foot-5-inch Walker, who is a 17-year-old junior in his first year with the Hawks, said outside the locker room.
“We knew coming into this game that would never ever happen again.”
In fact, as best as Walker can recall, that’s the first time he ever went without a 3-point shot since he started playing serious ball on the AAU circuit.
“If I played in a game and got the ball, I’d hit a 3,” he said. “That’s since I was in the fifth grade and about 10 years old. We’re confident shooters. We don’t hang our heads; we’re capable shooters. We shot the ball the same way we did on Friday and had different results. It felt good to see them going in.”
Szmidt and Walker each made two 3s in the first quarter and came back in the third one apiece as Hamilton Heights established its superiority in quick fashion, racing to 8-0 and 18-3 leads in the first six minutes.
Hawks coach Zach Ferrell already has seen enough to realize a shooting drought won’t last long around his north-of-the-border long-range gunslingers.
“Walker and Szmidt are two of the best shooters you’ll ever find,” Farrell said. “(Friday) was definitely an anomaly. I doubt we’ll ever see than again.”
Abdulhakim Ado, the 6-10 post who committed to Mississippi State last week, can only watch and marvel when his two teammates start scorching the nets with long-distance missiles.
“I’ve been traveling the last couple of weeks on my visits, but in practice they shoot lights out,” said Ado, who finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. “Those shots looked perfect in our last night, but they weren’t going in.
“They work hard 24/7. They don’t take days off and take everything serious. To shoot 3s like that, it would take me till Lord knows when.”
Wesley Christian coach Jack Jarrell wishes his troops could have hit more shots about five feet closer to the basket than the 3-point line. He knew exactly why the Circuit Riders trailed by 15 points at halftime.
“Free throws were our Achilles heel,” he said after whirlwind three-day stretch for his well-traveled team. “We missed 13 free throws and we’re down 15 at half. That’s the difference in the ballgame.”
Jarrell had his entire roster stay on the court at halftime shooting free throws. Wesley wound up making 13-of-27 from the stripe.
Jarrell wasn’t happy about much the team’s third loss in as many days. Wesley played at home on Thursday, losing 55-53, lost to Central Park, 64-61, in the Hawks Havoc on Friday and were blasted by Hamilton Heights on Saturday.
Then, they loaded up the bus for an 8-hour trip back to Allen. They’ll take off again on Thanksgiving to play in the Lighthouse Classic Challenge in Corinth, Miss., next weekend. Hamilton Heights will also participate in the same event.
“We may see these guys again pretty quick,” Jarrell said.
Szmidt started the game with a 3 from the left corner, Alexander dropped in a layup and Szmidt drained another 3, this one from the opposite corner, and the Hawks had an 8-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
Wesley’s Christian Lorn made a free throw and Walker got into the long-range action with a 3 from the right wing. Alexander scored and Alexander dropped in his second 3, Walker scored from inside the arc and the Hawks grabbed an errant Wesley shot and fed Ezekiel Balogun for a fast-break layup to stretch the lead to 18-3. Alexander finished with 12 points.
“I thought we played soft, not strong at all,” Jarrell said. “We weren’t focused and didn’t come out ready to play.”
Wesley’s Rasheed Weeks cut the Circuit Riders’ deficit to 36-19, but the Hawks went on a 13-2 offensive surge – Ado scored six points – to put the game safely in win column with 48.7 seconds left in the third period.
“I thought our kids competed hard all the time,” Farrell said, “and did a fantastic job on the glass. There were times when the game got sloppy, but they’re still learning to play together and with another team out there on the floor. We’ll sharpen those things up and get better.”
Hamilton Heights enjoyed a 43-27 advantage on the boards, including 33 defensive rebounds. Silas Adheke had 10 rebounds and Balogun added nine.
Hamilton Heights travels to Birmingham on Tuesday to play Central Park before moving on to Corinth for the Lighthouse tourney on Friday and Saturday.
Wesley Christian 4 12 1016 – 40
Hamilton Heights 20 11 20 17 – 68
Wesley Christian (40) – Daughtery, Garcia, J. Sun, Yahaya, Lorn 5, Kopinga 1, Milosovic 7, H. Sun, Lin 2, Weeks 6, Elshecks, Smith, Malik McDonald 19, Azibuke.
Hamilton Heights (68) – Abubakar, Abdulhakim Ado 12, Pitts 4, Therron Szmidt 11, Nickeil Walker 14, Massengill 2, Shai Alexander 12, Balogun 9, Adheke 4 .
3-Point Goals – Wesley Christian 3 (McDonald 2, Weeks 1), Hamilton Heights 6 (Szmidt 3, Walker 3).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)