MABEN — One of the most difficult plays to complete in basketball is a three-point play when a team makes a free throw, misses a free throw, secures the rebounds, and scores on the putback.
When the Aberdeen High School boys basketball team completed the rare feat three times in the first half Saturday night, New Hope had to feel it may not be its night.
The Bulldogs dominated in the paint and utilized multiple second-half scoring chances to post a 67-58 victory in a final-round game at the West Oktibbeha Christmas Classic in H.D. Morgan Gymnasium.
The two squads split their session. The New Hope girls erased a halftime deficit to post a 43-36 win against Aberdeen.
“We had a size advantage over them so making second shots were going to be extremely critical,” Aberdeen coach Cornelius Gilleylen said. “I thought our rebounding the basketball and scoring on second shots was a big key to the game.”
After both teams struggled to find an early offensive rhythm, the Bulldogs eased out to a 16-12 advantage. Over the next seven minutes, New Hope would manage only one field goal. Defensive pressure was the key as Aberdeen ripped off a 16-3 run to open up a 32-15 advantage.
“We want to play with a high tempo and we want to play great defense for four quarters,” Aberdeen senior Elliot Johnson said. “That is the thing about defense. Coach tells us you can always play great defense. I thought we did that tonight.
“For four quarters, we guarded real hard and forced them to make mistakes. We take pride in our defense.”
Aberdeen (7-2) rode the surge of their second quarter run to carry a 43-25 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Bulldogs forced 15 turnovers and scored an amazing 29 second-chance points in the opening half.
“We have had a time maintaining and rebounding the basketball this year,” New Hope coach Drew McBrayer said. “Those things absolutely killed us in the first half. In the second half, we were more patient on offense. We slowed the game down and took away their easy baskets.”
New Hope (5-4) did keep its hopes alive by playing a solid all-around second half.
A 6-0 run capped by a Jock Pilgrim putback closed the gap to 47-34. Aberdeen ran the lead back out to 20 before carrying a 54-41 advantage into the final quarter. The Trojans opened the final quarter with a 6-2 run and whittled the deficit to 62-55 on a basket by Sylvester Brandon with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation.
New Hope failed to score on its next four possessions as the Bulldogs reeled off five straight points to move back out of danger.
“In the second half, we played really well,” McBrayer said. “The big thing was taking away those second shots. We slowed things down offensively and that cut down their transition opportunities. We outscored them in the second half but couldn’t string enough points together to take the lead.”
With the victory, Aberdeen ran its win streak to six straight games. Before Saturday, the Bulldogs had won the first give games of the streak by an average margin of 32 points.
“We still have a lot of young players on this team,” Johnson said. “However, the guys on this team are unselfish and believe in one another. Once we get the second-string and third-string players playing on our level, we can be a very dangerous team.”
Shedrick Fair paced Aberdeen with 20 points, while Johnson had 12 points and Brandon Rodgers added 10 points. New Hope received 16 points from Jason Tate and 14 points from Pilgrim.
Meanwhile, the Lady Trojans improved to 11-0 in an unorthodox manner. New Hope struggled mightily offensively but eventually pieced together a 16-2 run to pull away midway through the second half.
“This may be the win I am most proud of because of the way we went about getting it,” New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman said. “We were not a good offensive team tonight. To be able to battle through that and find a way to still win the game makes me really proud of this team.”
Aberdeen (4-5) used a box-in-one to surround key Lady Trojans’ scorer Moesha Calmes. Despite their best efforts, Calmes still scored 10 points, while founding herself more of a distributor.
“Since our shots were not falling we had to really step it up on defense,” said Calmes, a sophomore guard. “Defense is a big part of our team. We feel like if we can play defense we give ourselves a chance to win.
“The defense was real important tonight because our shots were not falling.”
For New Hope, D.J. Sanders led the way with 15 points, while Calmes had 10 points and Jasmine Gardner scored eight points.
“The maturity of this team is what allowed us to win this game,” Holman said. “When you have the ability to step it up and play even harder in the third and fourth quarters that is when you know you can be a special team. I saw that tonight.
“Even though a lot of things did not go our way, we had a special determination.”
Calmes said that determination has been fostered through team togetherness.
“Even though we have a lot of young players, we have been together for a while,” Calmes said. “You can really see the confidence beginning to grow. Each time we win, it gets a little bigger. We really needed that confidence level in the fourth quarter tonight.”
Aberdeen received 10 points from Sade Walker and nine points Raven Love.
East Oktibbeha (G) 52, West Oktibbeha 51
In a strange ending to a night-session game, West Oktibbeha was done in by three technical fouls in a loss to county rival East Oktibbeha.
The East Oktibbeha-West Oktibbeha boys game wasn’t completed in time for deadline.
With 16 seconds left in regulation, West Oktibbeha held the ball for the apparent final shot of a tie game. However, Victoria Hudson asked for a timeout. The Lady Timberwolves were out of timeouts and a technical foul was assessed.
East Oktibbeha converted the technical free throw a 52-51 lead. The Lady Titans then inbounded the ball and ran out the clock before West Oktibbeha could get a foul.
“That was such a tough game,” East Oktibbeha coach Pam Roberts said. “We were in a hole and had to dig our way out of it. I am real proud of the girls for the way they fought back. They stayed composed, followed instructions, got back in the ballgame and found a way to defeat them,”
West Oktibbeha (5-4) scored the game’s first 10 points. The Lady Titans went more than six minutes before finally scoring. East Oktibbeha (6-6) responded with a 12-2 run late in the second quarter to force 23-23 deadlock at halftime.
The contest remained extremely tight and very intense throughout the final 16 minutes. Neither team led by more than four points in the final half. East Oktibbeha did not grab its first lead of the second half until 37-35.
“We played solid defense,” West Oktibbeha coach Marcus Johnson said. “It was an intense game between two rivals. I told my players before the game whoever had the least turnovers would win the game. They had the least turnovers and deserved to win the game.”
The Lady Timberwolves drew their first technical foul in the second quarter when a substitute was not listed in the scorebook. A technical on the West Oktibbeha bench debating a rebounding call took place early in the fourth quarter.
“We were waiting for an opportunity,” Roberts said. “Credit to our girls for hanging in there. It was such an intense ballgame. We didn’t have many breaks in the first half. However, they hung tough and kept believing something good would happen.”
The Lady Titans seized the momentum shortly after that and actually built a 47-44 lead with 1:55 left after a 3-point basket from Alexis Henderson. The Lady Timberwolves would then benefit on the next technical as East Oktibbeha drew one for some shoving under the basket.
On this trip down, the Lady Timberwolves hit 1 of 2 free throws for the personal foul, 1 of 2 free throws for the technical, and grabbed a 49-47 lead on a 3-point basket by Brittany Jones.
The Lady Titans scored the next four points before Victoria Hudson responded with a game-tying basket for West Oktibbeha with 45 seconds left. The Lady Timberwolves would get the next defensive stop before being done in by the technical.
“We sure had our chances,” Johnson said. “I am going to have a tough time sleeping tonight. It was a game where we started off so strong. We played well, just couldn’t close it out.”
East Oktibbeha received 18 points from Quanisha Doss and 15 points from Alexis Henderson. West Oktibbeha received 23 points and 12 rebounds from Jaslyne Bedford. Hudson added 12 points.
Hamilton opened Saturday’s tournament session with a sweep of West Lowndes.
The Hamilton girls won 57-45 behind 17 points from Mary Willis and 14 points from Christen Williams.
The Hamilton boys won 81-78 behind 15 points from Ben Seely, 14 points from Cojuante McMillian and 13 points from Cedric Bell.
On Friday, the East Oktibbeha girls beat Aberdeen 65-62.
Quanisha Doss led East Oktibbeha with 21 points. Alexis Henderson had 15 points, Lydia Stevenson added 13 points, and Savannah Blair had 10 for the Lady Titans.
Sade Walker led Aberdeen with 31 points.
In other girls action, West Oktibbeha beat West Lowndes 76-34. Jaslyne Bedford had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Brittany Jones added 14.
n In boys action, West Oktibbeha beat West Lowndes 78-53. Lavontis Smith led the Timberwolves with 16 points.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.