East Ridge’s Alonzo Russell did two things Thursday night that correlated with what would become the Pioneers’ first basketball win in almost a month. And if Red Bank had done just one of them, it might have been a different story.
The Pioneers used a strong close in each of the first two periods and a hot start to the second half to build what turned into an insurmountable lead and managed to hold off a furious rally from the rival Lions to post the 61-53 win in a key District 6-AA contest.
The two things: he feasted on the easy shot and he bought what Pioneer head coach Jon Goddard was selling in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.
“We came into tonight knowing it was a big game and coach told us not to worry about anything in the past but focus on this one.
We are working towards that tournament,” Russell said afterwards.
“We really practiced a lot on moving the ball, getting five or six passes to get an open shot. I was the beneficiary of that movement and got a lot of easy ones.”
Russell had the golden touch around the basket, missing just two shots on the night and scored 12 of his 18 points in the final half to lift the men in orange to a much-needed win. Red Bank, on the other hand, missed 14 so-called bunnies from in close and it proved fatal.
“When you have a lack of focus it shows up in things like missed layups and free throws,” said Red Bank coach Nick Fike. “I saw it before the game even started and I tried to correct it, but obviously didn’t do a very good job and that’s on me and the coaches.”
Despite the recent struggles – it had been almost a full month since its last win – the win puts East Ridge in a solid third slot behind league leaders Brainerd and Tyner as the 6-AA race nears the finish line. East Ridge (6-10) has five league wins now to pull ahead of a pack of four-win teams for the third spot.
“Our record isn’t what we want, but we’ve been building towards tonight in the last few games. We didn’t finish pretty, but we’ve been harping on playing well to end the regular season and get hot for the tournament,” said Goddard.
East Ridge came ready to play from the tip, and an 8-2 run at the close of the first – highlighted by 3-pointers from Russell and Nate Mathis – made it 15-11 after one. Deric Tremble’s trey at the end of the half extended the Pioneer lead to 29-23 thanks to a strong first half from Tyrone Martin. Martin led the Pioneers with 20 points on the night on an array of floaters and 3s, knocking in a dozen of his points in the first half.
East Ridge came out hungry for more to open the final half, ripping off a 9-2 start to push it all the way to 38-25. Deangelo Hudgins’ long 3-pointer at the end of the quarter thwarted a nice 7-2 Red Bank run and set the tone for a strong start to the final stanza. The Pioneers pushed out to a 17-point lead with just 2:48 left in the game to provide just enough breathing room to escape a mad dash by the Lions that trimmed all but six points of the lead.
“We have been playing better basketball of late and the last two games we lost we gave up leads in the fourth period. We purposely worked on milking the possessions to shorten the game and hopefully get those easy shots. We have had trouble finishing and that’s simply a matter of execution, but we are getting there,” said Goddard.
Red Bank’s Will Thomas hit a long 3 and was fouled, and when he missed the ensuing free throw, he came up with ball in the scramble and stepped outside the arc to nail another trey to get the lead down to single digits at 53-44. Jamel Davis’ two free throws with 1:08 left got it as close as 55-49, but East Ridge managed to close it out with five free throws in the final 49 ticks.
“We played most of the game with our backs against the wall and that’s what happens,” said Fike. “Why couldn’t you play the first 29 minutes like the last three? It’s frustrating as a coach, especially when it’s something as simple as being focused for a game.”
Red Bank falls to 9-13 overall and 3-7 in the league. Brainerd still sits in the driver’s seat unbeaten at 7-0 followed by Tyner at 8-1 and then East Ridge (5-4). Signal Mountain and Central are lodged together with four wins each.
Aside from the big nights by Martin (20) and Russell (18), Hudgins chipped in nine and Mathis had seven before a knee injury sent him to the bench in the final period. Red Bank had four players in double figures with Thomas and Sewell leading the way with 11 each and Brown and Davis each tossing in 10. The Lions shot just 34 percent (18 of 53) from the floor, though.
East Ridge shot it well, getting a lot of good looks with their patient attack, making 47 percent of its shots (21 of 45). Both teams missed eight free throws apiece and the Pioneers turned it over 18 times to Red Bank’s 10.
Red Bank girls 50, East Ridge 18: The Lionettes improved to 20-3 on the year and set up a big District 6-AA showdown with Signal Mountain next Tuesday. Red Bank’s lone district loss was to league unbeaten Signal Mountain.
East Ridge remained winless on the year, but definitely got Red Bank’s attention with a 9-7 lead after the first quarter before the Lionettes reeled off a 21-0 run to end any hopes of the upset bid. Red Bank (20-3, 9-1) had a balanced attack with Bailey Lee the only one in double figures with 11. Shelby Romans had nine, Ashley Ware and Haley Claiborne eight each and Jasmine Roberts another seven.
The Lady Pioneers were led by Caisee Jordan’s seven points.
East Ridge 9 0 5 4 -- 18
Red Bank 7 21 8 14 -- 50
EAST RIDGE (18) – Gamble, Jordan 7, Baker 5, Moton, Toney 1, Hubbard 3, Harvey, Wilbanks 2.
RED BANK (50) – Roberts 7, Babb 3, Pratt 2, Romans 9, Ware 8, Claiborne 8, Ledford, Bowens 1, Lee 4.
3-point goals: East Ridge 1 (Jordan); Red Bank 4 (Romans 2, Claiborne 2)
East Ridge 15 14 14 18 -- 61
Red Bank 11 12 9 21 -- 53
EAST RIDGE (61) – Tremble 3, Williams 1, Hudgins 9, Mathis 7, Stewart 2, Martin 20, Garmany, Russell 18.
RED BANK (53) – Brown 10, Porter 2, Sewell 11, Jackson 5, Young, Jones 4, Thomas 11, Davis 10.
3-point goals: East Ridge 6 (Martin 2, Mathis, Hudgins, Tremble); Red Bank 6 (Thomas 3, Sewell 2, Brown)
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)