Heath Simpson said it isn’t his style to rant and to rave during pre-game or halftime speeches.
The Victory Christian Academy boys basketball team challenged Simpson’s ways Friday night when it fell behind archrival Tuscaloosa Christian Academy by 11 points at halftime in the semifinals of the Alabama Christian Athletic Association Division I State tournament.
With only one loss entering the event, the Eagles didn’t want to leave Oxford, Alabama, without a state title. But Simpson knew screaming and yelling or breaking a dry erase board in the locker room wasn’t going to aid his team’s cause. Instead, he opted for a calmer approach and some words of encouragement on how to break down Tuscaloosa Christian’s defense.
“I just told them we got this far and I don’t want to stop now,” Simpson said. “I told them to get out there and to play a little harder and to play like it was your last game.”
VCA responded with a 55-52 in overtime victory to advance to the championship game. Quintavin Williams had 32 points and seven rebounds. Jay Elmore had 14 points, two rebounds, and two assists.
On Saturday, VCA (25-1) completed its mission with a 40-29 victory against New Life Christian in the championship game at the Oxford Civic Center. The victory avenged the team’s only loss of the season.
For its accomplishment, the VCA boys basketball team is The Dispatch’s Prep Player of the Week.
On Thursday, VCA beat First Assembly Christian 72-43. Quintavin Williams led the way with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists. Andrew Bishop Jr. had 12 points and three rebounds.
Against Tuscaloosa Christian, Williams had 20 of his 32 points in the second half, while Jay Elmore had all of his 14 points in the second half.
Simpson said the key against Tuscaloosa Christian was a half-court trap that helped the team rally. That effort and the one against New Life helped VCA complete a journey that had a motto — #redeemteam — and T-shirts to fuel the quest.
When asked if he could sense if his team would come back against Tuscaloosa Christian, Simpson said the Eagles had rallied from deficits all season and had responded in tough situations, so he had all of the confidence it would happen again.
“They would get in there and pull for each other and come together as a team,” Simpson said. “They always found a way to rise out of the situation. … I didn’t expect them to quit at all because it isn’t in this team’s DNA.”
Williams said the team knew it hadn’t played its game in part because it had only 16 points in 16 minutes. He said the Eagles didn’t panic and re-focused on “locking up” on defense and rebounding.
“We just had careless turnovers, shots weren’t falling,” Williams said. “We weren’t boxing out or playing defense. We just had mental mistakes.”
Elmore converted from the free-throw line in the waning seconds to push the game against Tuscaloosa Christian into overtime. From there, Williams and Garrett Anthony also delivered at the free-throw line to help secure the win.
Simpson said a “total team effort” followed in the championship game. He said Solomon Hill controlled the rebounds, and Kenny Collier and Bishop Jr. directed the attack.
“It was probably one of our best defensive efforts as a whole,” Simpson said. “They were out there talking. When they’re talking, the defense is very productive.”
The title is Simpson’s sixth as a coach. He was a part of two varsity championships at Pickens County High School in Reform, Alabama. He also helped VCA win two junior varsity titles before winning his second varsity crown in the last three years at the school.
“I think what helped everything work out is we had a lot of kids that were determined for one goal,” said Simpson, who praised Williams for being a player who worked to get his teammates involved. “When you have a player like Quin who wants to get other people open and he wants other people to produce and do well, it kind of made everything a whole lot easier.”
Simpson also praised the efforts of assistant coach Drew Johnson and Drew’s brother, John Hunter, who helped with practice and game preparation.
“I couldn’t have done it without Drew,” Simpson said. “He has been a huge blessing.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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