Despite an uncharacteristic first half of the season, the rumors of Brainerd High School’s basketball death among the District 6-AA kingpins has been greatly exaggerated and Saturday afternoon inside the comfy warm surroundings of the High-Jackson Gymnasium the Panthers made that loud and clear from the opening tipoff.
The Panthers forced 12 first-quarter turnovers and raced out to a decisive 20-7 lead before withstanding a furious Tyner comeback in the final eight minutes to secure a statement-making 62-57 win over their rivals, handing the Rams their first District 6-AA loss on the season.
“Yeah I guess you could say that. Greatly so,” said Brainerd coach Levar Brown when asked if the rumors had been exaggerated.
“I try to emphasize to the kids to not listen to all the chatter out there, but they hear it. We’ve been a little bit Jekyll and Hyde on the season, but it was important for us to come out and play well today. We haven’t been happy with some of the games we’ve lost and Tyner beat us in the Best of Preps so we were pretty motivated for this one.”
The Rams came out and turned the ball over on 12 of their 20 first-quarter possessions and the Panthers closed the quarter on a 14-2 run to stun a Tyner team that came into the game in charge of the 6AA leaderboard.
“We expected them to come out fired up. They’ve lost some games they shouldn’t have I know what kind of energy this game and this atmosphere inside their gym can do to a team. They punched us in the mouth,” said Tyner’s E’Jay Ward, a longtime Brainerd assistant and former player.
Brainerd has won 16 of the last 18 meetings between the two giants inside the Panther den and even Ward said it felt strange sitting on the visitor’s bench as he took in the pregame warm-ups.
The two squads played it even in the second quarter, but the Panthers (9-8, 5-3) pushed it all the way out to a 47-27 lead late in the third quarter. Kevin Halfacre, Jr. led the early charge with eight first quarter points and LaDerron Freeman had a dozen in the second quarter as the Rams didn’t have an answer for the two guards.
“I’m not afraid to say that Freeman is one of if not the best point guards in the state. You can see out there how much Freeman plays off the energy Malik Hymon brings to the game, and tonight was his best effort of the year. Malik played for E’Jay (Ward) when he was young and I think that had him motivated today,” said Brown afterwards.
Tyner (15-4, 6-1) was far from done, though, and you could sense the Rams finally starting to get their feet underneath them to start the final period. Kobe Smith opened the period with an old-fashioned three-point play and Tyner began an 18-3 run to pull within 52-50 with 2:46 left in the game. The Panthers had seven turnovers, missed two front ends of one-and-ones at the free throw line and went almost a full six minutes of game time between field goals.
“We force a lot of turnovers and that’s something we do consistently, so I wasn’t surprised at the way we started the game. We are not a great half-court team, but we make up for it with what we can do with turnovers. The thing that did surprise me was our response to their run late in the game. We knew it was coming, and we didn’t handle it very well,” said Brown of the Rams’ late surge.
Once it got to within a bucket, it was anyone’s game and fortunately for Brainerd Malik Hymon was there to put his stake to it. Hymon wound up scoring Brainerd’s final 10 points to cap a 15-point second half and save the Panthers’ day.
First he hit two free throws to make it 54-50. Hymon then answered Amon Grace’s bucket with a layup of his own to keep it 56-52. After a Tyner miss, Hymon worked the lane again to extend it to 58-52 with 46 seconds left. A needless technical foul was called on a Tyner player for jawing after a mad scramble for the ball, and Hymon calmly sank the two free throws to push it all the way back to 60-52.
He closed the surge with two more free throws before Tyner got five straight at the end to make the final 62-57.
“I just happened to wind up the man in the moment, but that was all my teammates doing. This was a big game for us, and I was glad they put it in my hands at the end. We’re ready to start getting this thing on a roll, and today should be a nice start to that,” said Hymon.
For the Rams’ late effort, Ward was pleased: “We just ran out of bullets there at the end."
Senior Amon Grace was the most consistent Ram with his 22 points while Kobe Smith and Soloman Bridgeman each added 10. Freeman tallied 17, Halfacre, Jr. 16 and Hymon had the 15.
Brainerd girls 47, Tyner 38:
The Lady Panthers broke from a tied up halftime with a third quarter rush that proved too much for the Lady Rams. After trading buckets to a 17-all tie at the break, Brainerd ambushed Tyner with a 15-4 run in the third to safely put enough distance between the two rivals.
Kimea Careathers and Amarah Robinson combined for 11 points in the big surge and Careathers wound up hitting seven-of-eight free throws down the stretch to put the game away in the final period. Careathers had a game-high 22 for the winners while Tyreesha Sanders chipped in 12.
Tyner was held to just one field goal in the third and missed four of six free throws in the period.
Tyner 6 11 4 17 – 38
Brainerd 8 9 15 15 – 47
TYNER (38) – McKenzie 3, Patliff 3, Espy, Cosey 4, Camp 3, Poole, McCutcheon 15, Crusey 7, Long 3.
BRAINERD (47) – Bradley, Ward 6, Tyreesha Sanders 12, Robinson 7, Kimia Careathers 22, Jarrett, Thompson, Bell, Moore.
3-point goals: Tyner 3 (McKenzie, Camp, Long); Brainerd 3 (Ward, Robinson, Careathers)
Tyner 7 12 13 25 – 57
Brainerd 20 12 19 13 – 62
TYNER (57) – Kobe Smith 10, Amon Grace 22, Soloman Bridgeman 10, Gresham, Hambrick 5, Dozier, Fisher, Sturkey 5, Melton, Holloway 6.
BRAINERD (62) – Hubbard, Owten 6, LaDerron Freeman 17, Malik Hymon 15, Kevin Halfacre, Jr. 16, Lattimore 3, J. Williams, McKibbens 5, Chaney, Ward.
3-point goals: Tyner 4 (Grace 2, Holloway 2); Brainerd 4 (Freeman 2, Lattimore, McKibbens)
(Contact James Beach via email at email@example.com or Twitter @beachnut1134)