The third quarter belonged to Kerrick Thorne, whose 6’7 frame was everywhere and did everything for a Howard Hustlin’ Tigers squad that blew open what was a close game against the visiting Brainerd Panthers. The 23-20 halftime lead became a 61-47 win because of his interior scoring, passing, and defense in the second half.
Coming out of the locker room, Howard’s Xavier Fisher drove into the middle, and dumped off a pass to Thorne, who softly feathered it in.
After helping force a turnover, Thorne drove the ball from the perimeter, threw the ball off the backboard, caught the rebound, and tipped in two more. Brainerd’s coach called a quick timeout to slow the bleeding, but the deficit only grew after that.
“We will go as far as he takes us,” Howard coach James Talley said. “He is our anchor, and whenever he comes and is ready to play, we can be a really good team. He is the guy that makes us go.”
The Panthers actually jumped out to a 14-8 first-quarter lead against a Hustlin’ Tigers team unable to make a shot. Meechie Bowens ice-cold start didn’t help either. His NBA-range treys were just as errant as his point-blank bricks, and the usually deadeye guard started 0-6 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Brainerd’s perimeter scorers were comfortable driving and dishing against Howard’s man to man scheme.
Keon Wheeler had a nice pick and roll with big Deaunte Crawford on one of the earliest possessions. Wheeler started on the right side and drove middle, which drew Tiger defenders to him. Unbeknownst to the Tigers, Crawford was running in tandem with him, and Wheeler’s pocket pass resulted in an easy score.
But the second quarter was marked by a different mentality (and scheme) on Howard’s end. In the first, Brainerd point guard Dennis Lewis Jr. repeatedly beat the man-to-man press and effortlessly initiated the Panther’s offense. In the second, Howard switched to a fullcourt trap and Brainerd’s easy lane to offense was mucked up.
“We started in man-to-man, but we try to throw different looks out there to keep the opponent confused,” coach Talley said.
Guards Jadon Jenkins and Bowens, and bigs Thorne and Chris Hall suffocated and flustered various Panthers into blunder after blunder. A few of these turnovers opened the floor up enough for Bowens, who popped free for one of his trademark moonball threes in the second. Lewis Jr. was forced to give up the ball more often than not, and Brainerd’s other players threw some wild passes. After firing up some truly-bizarre shots in the first quarter, the Hustlin’ Tigers slowed down and began to move the ball with pace.
When Hall flashed to the middle of Brainerd’s 2-3 zone and canned the midrange jumper, Howard took an 18-16 lead, one they would not relinquish. The Hustlin’ Tigers took a 23-20 lead into halftime, and their quick start to the third quarter was in many ways a continuation of what they had started in the second.
“We came into halftime and had to remind them to relax and to just play our game,” coach Talley said.
Whenever Thorne wasn’t playing a perfect high-low game with Hall for layups against the zone, Fisher was often dime-ing up teammates for good looks and even more layups. On the flashiest possession of the night, Bowens and Fisher played the two-man fastbreak as well as one could ask for. Fisher zipped the ball to Bowens on the other side, who quickly returned the pass back to Bowens for a score.
With a 15 point lead for most of the quarter, the Hustlin’ Tigers slowed down considerably in the fourth, happy to grind the clock down to zeroes. But before the Howard crowd was dismissed, Thorne provided one more highlight for the spectators.
The tall combo-forward had the ball 90 feet from the basket, and he decided to show off his guard skills by dribbling past the first defender. Around mid-court, he split two more converging Panthers and got past them too. Once he got into the paint, he slowed and elongated his steps, lofted the ball above his head with his right hand, and yammed it through the rim for the only dunk of the night.
“We’ve been talking about playing more together as a team, because sometimes we get out of synch and play individual ball,” coach Talley said. “That’s on us as coaches, and we have to fix that. The last couple of games, we’ve been gelling, so hopefully we’re a better team moving forward.”
Brainerd never quit though, and Quintus Broadnax made sure Thorne’s slam was the only one Howard’s crowd got to see. When Jenkins tried the same trick, Broadnax used one of his hands and an outstretched arm to send it back (although the away fans hollered for a possible foul). Howard went into clock-draining mode soon thereafter and closed out the 61-47 win.
Brainerd Girls 66, Howard 19: The Panthers jumped out to a 19-7 first quarter lead and never relented in their blowout win over host Howard. Guard tandem Arteya Scott and Raijeria Bell combined for 43, and Scott scored all 21 in three quarters. Howard’s Emauri Owens had 12, and hit four consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter to give her double-digits on the game.
BRAINERD 14 06 10 17 -- 47
HOWARD 08 15 24 14 -- 61
BRAINERD (47) – Lattimore 8, Dennis Lewis Jr. 12, Crawford 2, Byrdsong 5, Broadnax 9, Wheeler 6, Baylor 5
HOWARD (61) – Meechie Bowens 7, Chris Hall 11, Kerrick Thorne 12, Xavier Fisher 16, Greer 2, Dixon 6, Jenkins 7
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 3 (Lattimore, Lewis Jr. Baylor); Howard 3 (Bowens, Fisher, Hall).
BRAINERD 19 22 14 11 -- 66
HOWARD 07 06 02 04 -- 19
BRAINERD (66) – Raijeria Bell 22, Ward 6, Wright 8, Belcher 6, Arteya Scott 21, Mason 2, Carter 1
HOWARD (19) – Emauri Owens 12, Lewis 2, Taylor 2, Poole 3
3-POINT GOALS: Brainerd 1 (Scott); Howard 1 (Poole)
Email Joseph Dycus at firstname.lastname@example.org