James Talley wasn’t taking any chances.
The spirited Howard basketball coach knows how tough it is to beat the same team three times in the same season, so he spent most of the day on Saturday reminding his Hustlin’ Tigers about that fact and that they needed to stay focused on the job at hand.
Talley’s message must have hit home because Howard was able to beat the Red Bank Lions for the third time, Saturday’s final at Henry Bowles Gymnasium by a 59-51 margin.
With the win, Howard will travel to top-seeded Tyner for the District 6-AA championship on Tuesday. The Rams defeated Brainerd by a 46-30 final on Saturday.
Red Bank will return to action in the 6-AA consolation game hosting Brainerd on Monday night.
Talley isn’t a man who shows a lot of emotion, so he wasn’t all that over-the-top excited when Saturday’s game ended, but he was pleased and liked what he saw from his kids for the most part.
“Red Bank showed up and didn’t back down the first time, but all teams at this point in the season are good,” Talley said just outside the Howard dressing room after the game ended.
“These kids all know each other and we knew we’d get their best punch, but we shot well from the free throw line and did a good job rebounding and those were the two biggest keys to our win tonight.
“Normally we miss a lot of free throws, but the good news is that we live to see another day. It’s always nice to play a district tournament game at home in a familiar place. We’ve been up and down this season and I know we can play better, but I’m just happy to leave here with a win,” he said after his team had improved to 16-3.
Red Bank coach Nick Fike knew that his team had a tough challenge on their hands in the tournament semifinals, but things just didn’t work out like he had wanted.
“I felt like we needed to put forth that little bit of extra effort and I think we did a better job of that in the second half, but those little things got us,” Fike said before entering the Red Bank dressing room.
“We were too impatient on offense and Howard got too many second-chance shots, but the season isn’t over. We just have to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do better,” Fike nodded, his team now 12-8 overall.
Taylor Swanson scored on a layup in the first minute as Red Bank had its only lead of 2-0 for about two minutes.
Meechie Bowens evened the score before teammates Chris Hall and Kerrick Thorne added buckets for a 6-2 lead. Swanson scored again with just over a minute left in the opening stanza to knot the score at 6-6, but Thorne and Bowens each scored in the final minute to give the Hustlin’ Tigers a 10-6 lead when the first stanza ended.
The Lions got within six points twice in the second quarter, the last time at 22-16 following two free throws by A.D. Crutcher with 2:17 left, but Howard had an 8-0 run the rest of the way sparked by a pair of 3s by Cobi Dixon for a 30-16 halftime lead.
Haden Spurgeon scored on a drive along the baseline with 3:33 left in the third stanza to get Red Bank within five points at 37-32, but the Lions never got any closer as Howard maintained its lead with key buckets at critical times.
Swanson scored the final four points for Red Bank in the last minute, including a drive from the wing with 22.2 seconds that got the Lions within six at 57-51 before Xavier Fisher wrapped up the scoring with two free throws late to provide the eight-point margin of victory.
Thorne scored 15 points to lead Howard while Dixon was also in double figures with 13. Bowens and Hall both followed with eight each.
Swanson scored 13 points to lead Red Bank while teammates Cam Bell and Spurgeon were next with 11 each.
Howard had an unofficial 25-23 rebounding edge as Thorne grabbed seven. Fisher and Hall snagged five apiece. Bell had seven for the Lions while Swanson grabbed six.
RED BANK 6 10 20 15 -- 51
HOWARD 10 20 15 14 -- 59
RED BANK (51) – Barber 2, Swanson 13, Eddins 8, Bell 11, Clay, Smith 2, Sewell 2, Crutcher 2, Spurgeon 11, Greer.
HOWARD (59) – Greer 5, Dixon 13, Jenkins 6, Thorne 15, Bowens 8, Fisher 4, Hall 8.
3-POINT GOALS: Red Bank 2 (Swanson, Bell); Howard 5 (Greer, Dixon 3, Thorne).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)