The Hixson Wildcats made a statement Monday night to start the 2019 portion of their basketball schedule: don’t sleep on these cats.
Rhea County certainly got the message early and often, but thanks to its twin tower combo of Ricky Guthrie and Kalen Laws and a pesky defensive effort from Jackson Harveston the Golden Eagles gutted out a 53-47 win on the Wildcats home floor in a non-region game between the two.
“They brought the fight to us tonight and punched us in the face early.
They were ready for us and I guess since our guys beat them by 18 at our place they thought it would be another 18-pointer on their floor, that it would be easy, but tonight was anything but easy,” said Rhea County coach Daniel Curtis. “They really frustrated us, and that’s a credit to them. They’ve put in some work since we saw them last.”
The Eagles (7-11) won easily back in early December by a 70-52 count during a 10-game losing streak for Hixson squad. The Wildcats looked anything but a team with just two wins in 13 outings, and the youngsters look poised to make some noise in the new year.
“We’ve got some potential. That was a good team tonight and we played much better tonight. This team is going to pull out some wins. In fact, when we start putting together four quarters, we are going to be tough,” said Hixson guard Christian Crowe, who led the squad with 16 on the night.
The Wildcats, led by Crowe and fellow guard Shawn Long, hit six of 10 3-pointers in the first half and surged to a 30-21 lead late in the half before an unfortunate series of events helped Rhea close the half on a 5-0 run to make it 20-26 at the break. An Eagles’ steal in the final 30 seconds looked like an easy layup but a Hixson defender hustled back an appeared to block the shot a la Lebron James style, but a foul was called. The frustrated defender became demonstrative and a technical foul was assessed leading to four free throws and possession.
“The first half we were really focused and stuck with the game plan. We hit some big shots an moved the ball well, but the sequence at the end of the half hurt us. Give Rhea County credit because they hung in there. They got some really good bigs and they were able to space out in the second half so we couldn’t help out on them. I was pleased with the effort, but we have to finish better,” Hixson coach Lawanza Crutcher said.
The Eagles certainly played with more attentiveness in the second half, forcing nine turnovers and limiting Hixson to just one made trey.
“We just did a better job of executing our half court offense in the second half, but yeah, I think we got after them better defensively and that helped. That No. 3 (Crowe) came out and lit us up in the first half, but we did a better job limiting him in the second half and that was the difference,” said Guthrie, who had 22 on the night, including the Eagles’ final 10.
Down 35-34 heading into the final quarter, Guthrie and Laws made their presence felt. Laws’ old-fashioned three-point play to open the period gave Rhea the lead and he immediately added to it with a turnaround jumper to make it 39-35. From that point, it was Guthrie who scored 12 of the final 14 points as the Eagles methodically pulled away to close it.
Crowe, who scored 15 in that first half, was held in check by Harveston and didn’t score in the final half.
“I thought it was Harveston’s best game of the year by far and it was a difference maker for us. We put him on (Crowe) and the fact we held them to just five points in the third quarter was huge. We don’t score a whole lot in bunches, and we struggle some when our bigs don’t score, but got it to them when it counted,” Curtis added.
Even Crowe recognized Harveston’s effort.
“They put their bets defender on me, and we missed some screens and I missed some shots I should have made, but those are the kind of things we haven’t seen a lot of and we’ll adjust to them better now,” said Crowe.
Guthrie (22) and Laws (16) combined for 38 points and Drake Taylor added 13 for the winners. Crowe got help from Long, who scored 10 in the first half and finished with 12 for the game.
Rhea girls 51, Hixson 16: The Lady Eagles used two big runs by their starters to open each half and had little trouble with the hosts. Rhea (10-9) got out to a 17-1 lead after the first quarter before subbing, and then the starters outscored the Lady Wildcats 22-2 in the third in the rout.
Maddie Smith led Rhea with 10 points while Kirby Brown had 10 of Hixson’s 16 points.
Rhea County 17 7 22 5 – 51
Hixson 1 6 2 7 – 16
RHEA COUNTY (51) – Cameron 9, Maddie Smith 14, Taylor, Reeves, Conley 3, Jenkins 6, Taylor, Hampton 9, Welch 5, Gentry 5, Davis, Tankersley.
HIXSON (16) – Crutcher, Nakata, Strickland 2, Hunter 1, Kirby Brown 10, Hobbs, Johnston, Quach 3, Elsea.
3-point goals: Rhea County 5 (Cameron, Smith, Conley, Hampton, Welch); Hixson 1 (Quach).
Rhea County 13 13 8 19 – 53
Hixson 11 19 5 12 – 47
RHEA COUNTY (53) – Harveston, Thunquist 2, Kevr, Vincent, Drake Taylor 13, Kalen Laws 16, Palermino, Ricky Guthrie 22.
HIXSON (47) – Christian Crowe 15, Carter 6, Shawn Long 12, Smith 8, Hunter 4, Maples, Hunter 3.
3-point goals: Rhea County 2 (Taylor 2); Hixson 7 (Crowe 3, Long 3, Hunter).
(Contact James Beach at email@example.com or via Twitter @beachnut1134)