Howard coach James Talley took one look at his roster a few months ago when he was putting together his 2019-2020 schedule and knew exactly what had to be done.
“I circled this week on the schedule, and I told the kids, this was the week that would make them. It was going to get us better, one way or the other. If we came out of it still standing up, then I knew we would be built to make a run,” Talley said before heading to a second celebratory locker room this week. “I’ve just got too many young ones in the rotation and there is only one way to get them ready for what lies ahead, and it was this.”
The “this” he was speaking about was a gauntlet of games which included McCallie, Red Bank, Signal Mountain and Brainerd in a span of five days, and following Thursday night’s 59-55 win at Red Bank, his Hustlin’ Tigers are half way home. Signal Mountain is up next on Friday and rival Brainerd closes out the week on Saturday.
And the week could not have come at a better time to help erase the taste of defeat last Friday to Tyner as the Rams seized control of the District 6-AA standings.
“It’s one game at a time for us. You lose one; you go back out and win the next one. It’s all about getting to where we need to be when we need to be there,” said Calvin James, one of two Howard seniors in the rotation and perhaps it’s most important.
It was James who helped settle down the youthful Tigers – who use four sophomores, and a pair of juniors to go along with fellow senior Dicorius Knight in Talley’s rotation – early on in a wretched first quarter. And it was James who became the shadow to Red Bank’s talented Lucas Brown’s reflection in a fourth quarter that ultimately decided this District 6-AA affair.
The seventh-ranked Tigers came in fresh off a last-minute win against McCallie on Tuesday, and with Red Bank having won an even bigger one against Baylor on the same night, last night was going to give one of the two squads a ton of momentum moving forward. But by the time the first quarter ended, it wasn’t so much momentum either team was looking for, but rather a turnover-free possession.
Howard turned the ball over on 11 of its first 19 possessions in the first quarter, finished the game with a staggering 28 turnovers, and lived to smile about it.
“Red Bank just has so much length out there that the passes you are used to getting away with become deflections, and then become turnovers. We never got in panic mode, though, because the guys know we can score a lot in a hurry, but we had to settle down,” admitted Talley. “But at times it looked like Red Bank had six men on the floor against us.”
The Lions didn’t set in on fire, either, but led 9-2 after the first quarter in which Howard had six straight turnovers during one stretch and made just one of eight shots in the period. The Tigers decided turnabout (or rather forced turnovers) was fair play, though, and scored nine points off four Red Bank turnovers during a 1:08 stretch just before half, and when Demetrius Bowens popped a long bomb just before the halftime buzzer, Howard led 28-27 on the strength of a 26-point quarter.
The Lions never found much rhythm on offense for the entire night, but thankfully had Brown to rely through the first three quarters. The high-flying guard had 24 of the Lions 34 points midway through the third period as Red Bank utilized the charity stripe and Brown’s craftsmanship to keep it tight on a night when it shot just 31 percent from the floor (15-of-49).
Again, though, free throws provided offense to the tune of 24 makes in 31 attempts for the Lions, who led as late as 46-44 midway through the final period before James worked his magic on both ends of the court.
James scored twice on drives through the lane including an and-one play to give Howard a 50-46 lead it never relinquished. Knight had a big rebound and follow-up make to make it 55-51 with 1:00 left. Brandon Jones cut it to 55-53 with a baseline jumper with 50 seconds left before Xavier Fisher and James closed it with four straight free throws down the stretch.
And as big as James’ seven fourth quarter points were in the low-scoring affair it was his defense on Brown in the final eight minutes that was a work of art. Brown touched the ball just two times in the first six minutes and went scoreless in the quarter, finishing his night with 24 points.
“We knew he was the key, but if you take away the key, then you can’t unlock the lock,” said James of his effort.
“Those two guys are really competitive. I coached both of them on the same team in little league football, so they’ve been going at one another for a long time. We knew tonight would be a dog fight, and it was. We always have four quarter battles with Red Bank, so that’s what we expected,” Talley added.
To back up Talley’s assessment, each team had won eight apiece in the last 16 meetings between the two schools dating back to 2012.
The two seniors, Knight and James each had 13 to lead the Tigers and Bowens, the hero against McCallie, added 11 as the Tigers shot an even 50 percent (23-for-46) on the night. Red Bank, who had 23 turnovers of its own, got a little help for Brown from Brandon Jones with 11 and LeKerrick Ellison with 10. Ellison also had double figures in rebounds.
“I don’t know why, but people wanted to write us off after the Tyner loss,” added Talley.
Now halfway through a week that Talley knew could make or break his squad, it might be wise to pull out the eraser.
Red Bank girls 74, Howard 5: Red Bank, as expected, had far too much fire power for the Lady Tigers, jumping to a huge 28-4 lead after one period, and holding Howard without a field goal for the remaining game.
Savannah Washington had 13 points in the first period and finished with a game-high 29 and was one of three Lionettes in double digits. Arteya Scott added 15 for the winners and Raijeria Bell chipped in another 11.
HOWARD 4 0 0 1 – 5
RED BANK 28 21 18 7 – 74
HOWARD (5) – Bautista 2, Ellis, Flowers 2, Bridges, Reed, Washington, Te.Knox 1, Taylor, Ta.Knox.
RED BANK (74) – Savannah Washington 29, Loher 4, Crafton 3, Heathington, Ware 4, Arteya Scott 15, Ledford, Raijeria Bell 11, Lee 8.
3-POINT GOALS: Howard 0: Red Bank 3 (Washington, Crafton, Lee).
HOWARD 2 26 14 17 – 59
RED BANK 9 18 13 15 – 55
HOWARD (59) –Sexton 3, Dicorius Knight 13, Thorne 8, Demerius Bowens 11, Fisher 4, Wilson 3, Hall 4, Calvin James 13, Burks.
RED BANK (72) – Ross 4, Long, Lucas Brown 24, Eddins, Trimble 4, Swafford, Brandon Jones 11, Bell 2, LeKerrick Ellison 10.
3-POINT GOALS: Howard 4 (Bowens 3, Knight); Red Bank 1 (Jones).
Records: Howard 9-2 (5-1 6AA); Red Bank 10-7 (3-3 6AA).
(Contact James Beach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @beachnut1134)