The Signal Mountain Eagles went into halftime up 16-28 in their own gym on Wednesday night, but a strong second half performance by Hixon allowed the Wildcats to squeak out a narrow 44-43 win to open their District 6-AA Tournament.
Signal Mountain, in their home whites, won the opening tip and scored first with a lay-up from senior Benjamin Burns, the Eagles would hold onto that lead until late in the fourth quarter. Both teams lined up in man defense, with Signal Mountain pressing high after each made basket.
The pace of the first quarter was slow, with both teams struggling to find their offensive rhythm. A three pointer by Signal Mountain freshman Andrew Matukewicz meant the Eagles finished the first quarter up 8-11.
In the second quarter the intensity of the game began to pick up. Hixon rarely struggled against the Eagle’s press, but they did struggle putting the ball in the basket. The Wildcats didn’t score their fist points of the second quarter until there was only 2:36 left on the clock.
The Wildcats also sent Signal Mountain to the foul line on several occasions, and when the half-time buzzer finally sounded on Hixon’s worst quarter of the game they were down 16-28.
As the third quarter got underway it was clear whatever Hixon head coach Lawanza Crutcher told his guys in the locker-room at halftime struck a chord. They were better at every aspect of the game, especially defensively.
Hixon big men Eugene Calhoun and Nikolas Wesley both had productive third quarters. Wesley put up six of his eight-point total in the quarter, meanwhile Calhoun scored nine of his game high 17 points in the third. Both also got to work under the glass yanking down several rebounds. By the time the third quarter ended the big men had helped cut the Wildcats’ deficit to five, 33-38.
In the fourth quarter Signal Mountain started to suffer from the same scoring drought that had affected Hixon in the second. The Eagles scored a total of just five points in the final quarter, with four coming from big senior Braeden Wolford.
With 3:30 left on the clock the Wildcats finally leveled the game for the first time since the opening minute with a score of 41-41. A big three pointer from Guard TJ Earls and solid play from his back-court mate Braxton Burton, who had six in the quarter, sealed the game for Hixon, 44-43.
“The defensive intensity picked up in the second half,” Wildcats Coach Crutcher said, “we managed to turn them over some and started hitting our shots, which we weren’t doing in the second half.”
Signal Mountain head coach Steven Redman acknowledged his guys had hurt themselves.
“We just didn’t finish,” he said, “Ultimately you have to hit shots and we didn’t. I think we missed eight free throws at the end.”
HIXSON 8 8 17 11 - 44
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 11 17 10 5 - 43
HIXSON (44) - Eugene Calhoun 17, Braxton Burton 11, Wesley 8, Earls 5, Hermon 3.
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN (43) - Jermaine Stinson 10, Matukewicz 8, Wolford 7, Witherspoon 7, Tiblin 4, Kennedy 3, Burns 2, Ottley 2.
3-POINT GOALS: Hixon 2 (Burton, Earls) Signal Mountain 2 (Kennedy, Matukewicz).