When Steph Curry – one of the greatest shooters in the NBA – was asked in an interview what his shooting strategy was, he replied: “Just pull the trigger.”
Elite shooters have confidence in spades, and even if the previous ten shots have been off the mark, they always believe the next one is going in.
Howard’s Meechie Bowens isn’t quite the shooter that Curry is, but one thing the two have in common is the confidence that the next shot is always going in.
That confidence paid off on Tuesday when Bowens hit a buzzer-beater to lift his team over McCallie, and it was on full display in the third quarter of Howard’s showdown with District 6-2A rival Brainerd on Saturday.
With the Hustlin’ Tigers up 33-32 three minutes into the second half, Bowens drained three 3-pointers in the span of 40 seconds and what was a one-point lead quickly became ten. Howard went on to outscore host Brainerd 17-7 in the quarter on the way to a convincing 66-45 victory.
“During the first half I didn’t hit that many shots, but coach said ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting’ so that’s what I did,” said Bowens, who hit five treys for the game and finished with 17 points. “I’m in the gym working on my shooting every day. We just take games in this district one game at a time. We only lost two players off of last year’s team, so this year we have pretty much the same team, so we just keep building up and getting better every day.”
Bowens has support in developing his shooting confidence in Hustlin’ Tigers coach James Talley, who knows they need the junior if they hope to make a repeat trip to Murfreesboro for the state tournament in March.
“As he keeps his confidence and takes good shots, he can push us over the top,” Talley said of Bowens. “Meechie is such a great shooter that even when he has those down nights, his confidence is through the roof and he’s going to continue to keep shooting. He carried us with that last year, so we’re still leaning on him heavily now. I always tell him to keep shooting because I don’t ever want him to lose that confidence. And if you notice, every time he shoots and hits a 3, he always turns around and looks at me because he appreciates what I tell him and having the green light.”
While it was Bowens’ daggers in the third quarter that opened up the lead for the Hustlin’ Tigers (11-2, 7-1), it was the brilliance of Calvin James offensively that led the way in the first half. James scored nine of his game-high 19 points in the first quarter as Howard jumped out to an 8-0 lead right out of the gate.
Brainerd (7-7, 3-3) fought back after the slow start, led by Kevin Halfacre, Jr. who hit two shots from behind the arc and scored nine points. Teammate Deaunte Crawford scored all six of his points in the period, and the Panthers led 20-15 after a stanza.
While much of the emphasis is placed on Howard’s offensive prowess, it was the defense that buckled down starting in the second period to control the game. Through the second and third quarters, the Hustlin’ Tigers held Brainerd to just three field goals and 15 points.
“We just play hard defense,” said James. “Everybody knows we’ve got a lot of dunkers on this team, and our defense leads to a lot of those fast break dunks that get the crowd hyped up. We just have to play that Hustlin’ Tiger defense because that’s what we’re known for and that’s what we love to do.”
“I’m trying to get that state ring, that’s the only thing on my mind right now.”
One of the primary reasons for the defensive dominance was rim-protector Kerrick Thorne. Dominant in the paint and on the glass, the junior led a Hustlin’ Tigers’ defensive effort at the rim that blocked or altered nearly every shot the Panthers attempted. Thorne also scored 12 points, including a fast-break dunk at the end of the third quarter that punctuated Howard’s play during the period.
Despite the commanding victory, there was still one area of the game that Talley said his team had drastic room for improvement: free-throw shooting.
“If we could shoot free throws, we’d probably have an undefeated record at this time,” lamented Talley, whose team was just 10-of-26 from the charity stripe. “We continuously miss 15 free throws per game, and our opponents are making theirs.”
But the Hustlin’ Tigers coach will sleep well tonight after going 4-0 during a week that he previously said would be pivotal for his team if they wanted to make another deep postseason run. Howard defeated McCallie, Red Bank, Signal Mountain, and now Brainerd over a five-day stretch.
The Hustlin’ Tigers host Hixson on Tuesday before traveling to McCallie on Wednesday and Central on Friday. Brainerd hosts East Ridge next Friday.
HOWARD 15 16 17 18 -- 66
BRAINERD 20 8 7 10 -- 45
HOWARD (66) – Calvin James 19, Meechie Bowens 17, Kerrick Thorne 12, Knight 6, Sexton 5, Fisher 2, Wilson 2, Burks 2, Freeman 1, Reed, Hollard, Hall, Burks, Brown, Dupree.
BRAINERD (45) – Kevin Halfacre Jr. 16, Lewis Jr. 6, Crawford 6, Broadnax 5, Evans 4, Hubbard 3, Williams 3, Wheeler 2, Bates, Thomas, Jackson Jr., Saddler.
3-POINT GOALS: Howard 6 (Bowens 5, James); Brainerd 4 (Halfacre Jr. 2, Hubbard, Broadnax).
(Contact Kevin Llewallyn at Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org)