Brainerd coach Levar Brown finds himself in a quandary when it comes to his two big men: Jessie Walker and Joseph Norwood. Or rather a catch-22.
Turn them loose on defense like they were Thursday night against Red Bank in a 69-53 District 6-2A win or reel them in to avoid foul trouble which has cost the Panthers dearly this season.
Chance a referee’s whistle or give up an uncontested shot here and there.
“Sometimes, I have to tell them it’s okay to give up a basket instead of getting an unnecessary foul. They mean too much to us on both ends of the court to foul out or miss time because of foul troubles. They just have to be disciplined,” Brown said.
Last night was almost a compromise in the fact neither fouled out, but both big men sat for meaningful minutes due to foul problems.
“We lost two games over the Christmas break in which we had double-digit leads in the fourth quarter and both of them fouled out and it cost us. The bottom line is they have to be on the floor for us,” Brown explained.
Both made their presence felt.
Norwood got off to a particularly fast start in which he had nine first-quarter points, three rebounds and two blocked shots as the Panthers raced to a 21-13 lead after one. He and Walker contested shot after shot in the lane and it had a definite effect on the Lions, which missed several shots even when they weren’t being contested after the early aggressiveness.
“Our plan was to attack the basket which we did, but we missed some easy, easy shots. We battled our butts off, but when you miss those easy ones and miss as many free throws (11) as we did it just ruins momentum,” said Red Bank coach Nick Fike.
Walker wound up picking up a third foul with 4:29 left in the half and sat the rest of the quarter that saw Red Bank scrap its way back into the game. Tony Williams’ trey gave Brainerd a 26-13 lead, but the Panthers nearly six minutes without a made field goal as the Lions pulled back to within 29-27. Calvin Jackson and Will Thomas sparked the 14-3 Lion run but Michael Hampton’s late 3-pointer sent Brainerd into the half with a 35-29 lead.
“We came out slow against them the first time we met (56-49 Brained win) but we got off to a great start tonight. We slipped a little there, but I thought our defense in the second half really fed our offense when we were able to pull away,” said Walker, who had 10 of his 15 points in the final half.
And while the Panthers did pull away late in the game it wasn’t before the Lions roared from the locker room with a 5-0 run to make it 35-34.
Brainerd closed out the quarter, though, on a 12-3 run with Kevin Halfacre’s 3-pointer giving the Panthers a double-digit lead at 50-40.
“Kevin wasn’t mentally ready early in the season, but he is only a sophomore. He is really growing into the position and settling in to what we need him to be. He absolutely is our best option to run the point guard position, and he played well tonight,” Brown said.
Halfacre led all scorers with his 17 points with 11 of them coming in the decisive second half. Norwood wound up chipping in 11 after his hot start and Williams and Mark Hymon each added nine in a balanced attack.
Brainerd shot at a 45 percent clip from the field (28 of 62) as it improved to 8-3 overall and remained unbeaten atop the District 6-2A standings with its 5-0 mark.
The Lions clawed and battled till the end, but a poor shooting performance both inside and out as well as the free ones just proved too costly.
Red Bank (7-11, 2-5) hit just 32 percent of its shots (20 of 62) and was just 2-of-18 on 3-point attempts and missed 11 of its 22 free throw attempts.
“We just have to find our way but we seem to be beating ourselves. In this league you have to play hard every night and take advantage of the opportunities, and I think we play hard, but those opportunities just seem to get away from us,” said Fike, his team having lost six of its last seven.
The Lions were without their best player in Torey Sewell, who had 17 in the first meeting with Brainerd, due to a hand injury. Sophomore Lucas Brown stepped up his game, though, with 14 points that included a crowd-pleasing dunk while Jackson had 12 and Thomas 11 in the loss.
“One thing about Red Bank is they play hard and they play hard to end and that’s a credit to (coach) Fike. He does an awesome job and he just sort of wills them to play hard,’ praised Brown of his counterpart.
Red Bank girls 58, Brainerd 49: The Lionettes used a 13-0 run midway through the third period to bust open a tight affair with the Lady Panthers to remain a game behind Signal Mountain for the top perch in District 6-2A.
It was Red Bank’s 16th win of the season against just three losses and at 6-1 in the league, keeps them just behind Signal Mountain’s 5-0 mark.
Mya Kennebrew was the big cog for the Lionettes as she cleaned the offensive glass for key put backs after put back en route to 18 points, but the Brainerd girls proved to be pesky, pulling within single digits three times late in the game.
Missed free throws hampered the comeback effort as the Lady Panthers made just four of 13 attempts and missed six in a row late that could have cut the lead even further.
Kimia Carter came up big for Brainerd (1-6, 1-3) with a game-high 24 points, including 12 in the final period. Bailey Lee scored 10 for Red Bank.
Brainerd 6 12 8 21 -- 49
Red Bank 12 10 18 18 -- 58
BRAINERD (49) –
5, Merritt 2, Robinson 2, Jarrett 2, Jones, Torrence, Smith 4, Coates 2, Carter 24, Render 8.
RED BANK (58) – Roberts 6, Babb 4, Pratt 1, Romans, Ware 2, Claiborne 3, Kennebrew 18, Bowers 1, Lee 10.
3-point goals: Brainerd 2 (Ward, Render); Red Bank 1 (Claiborne).
Brainerd 21 14 17 17 -- 69
Red Bank 13 16 12 12 -- 53
BRAINERD (69) – Norwood 11, Wofford, Hymon 9, Halfacre 17, Hampton 7, Williams 9, Walker 15.
RED BANK (53) – Ross 2, Brown 14, Porter, Jackson 12, Young 3, Jones 5, Thomas 11..
3-point goals: Brainerd 3 (Halfacre, Hampton, Williams); Red Bank 2 (Brown, Thomas).
(Contact James Beach via email at 1134james@gmail or via Twitter @beachnut1134)