FAYETTEVILLE, Ga – In girls high school basketball, the holiday tournaments give teams the opportunity to play against competition from other classifications and parts of the state, it is a good gauge of where they are and what they need to work on before region games heat up in January. The Fayette County Lady Tigers, who advanced to the Sweet 16 last year in Class AAAAA, have gotten off to a strong start and got the chance to face one of the most storied ladies’ programs in the state, the No. 2 Wesleyan Lady Wolves. Under the leadership of Head Coach Jan Azar, Wesleyan has won 12 state championships in the past 16 years. The current edition is led by the talented senior duo of point guard Amaya Register who is signed to Old Dominion and Furman-signee Sutton West, but an otherwise young supporting cast. While the Lady Tigers (8-2) played Wesleyan even through the first quarter, emerging star sophomore AC Carter dominated on the offensive and defensive sides of the court and led the Lady Wolves (6-1) to an impressive 83-58 win.
The opening tip of the game gave a glimpse what was to transpire as West easily tipped the ball out to Carter who had an easy lay-up for the opening score. West would score on their next possession to go up 4-0 less than one minute in and a sudden feeling of a blow-out wafted overhead, but Lady Tiger senior forward Rikkelle Miller knocked down a three to answer, which seemed to settle her team down. Miller hit another three-pointer at the end of the first quarter to tie things up at 20. An otherwise impressive first quarter by the Lady Tigers did have one negative, the sharpshooting Miller picked up two quick fouls, the second one only three minutes into the game, it would significantly affect the way Fayette County Head Coach John Strickland rotated her in and out to protect her.
The Wolves struck quickly to start the second half, they went on a 9-0 run over the first 3 minutes. Register and Carter scored during the run that put the Lady Wolves up for good. The Lady Wolves may have stars, but their roster is strong from top to bottom and minutes are spread out. When West sat down in the second quarter, Sophomore Izzy Larsen got productive time and scored off an offensive rebound and put back. Another sophomore, Lauren Hill, hit a three from the top of the key and Register followed suit. Fayette County senior guard Trinity Brown, who had the task of answering the Wesleyan press all game, kept the Lady Tigers within striking distance, she slashed to the basket on two occasions for lay-ups to keep her team close. At the half, the Lady Wolves were up 40-31. After the 9-0 run to start the quarter, the Lady Tigers matched points the rest of the half.
The third started like the first, Carter hit a triple on the first play. It was the start of a surgically precise third quarter where the Lady Wolves operated at will. They hit six three-pointers in the quarter alone, Carter and Register with two each, and Nicole Azar and Hill also getting one. Maegan Barkley was a bright spot in the second half for the Lady Tigers, she made an athletic steal at mid-court and a drive for the basket plus the foul to keep Fayette County within reach at 58-45.
By the fourth quarter, the game was decided. It was an opportunity to showcase some skillsets and get some younger players some playing time. Carter impressed the crowd with a strong defensive rebound and then drove the length of the floor for the lay-up. She was almost unguardable throughout the game. Miller would add one more three with 6 minutes remaining, but the Lady Wolves closed out strong for the 25-point win.
The players of the game from Game 1 – Queens of the Hardwood Tournament.
Coach Azar was proud of the effort afterwards, “We have not played in 11 days, so I was really impressed at our shooting, we shot the ball really well. And made shots on the offensive end allow us to set up the press. Fayette County is a good team, we just hit the shots that let us jump out to a big lead and put it away.”
The Lady Wolves are going to be sending a lot of good teams home with 25-point losses as the season progresses.
The Wesleyan Lady Wolves arrived at the gym 25 minutes prior to game time, they literally walked off their bus, put on tournament tee-shirts and started their warm-up routine.
Senior Sutton West is a state championship machine, she currently has 7 (two in basketball, once in soccer and four in track). She has the chance to get four more this year. She is their best defender and usually draws the opponent’s best player. She can bring the ball up court, effectively maneuver the press and score off the dribble.
The Lady Wolves offense runs through AC Carter, Amaya Register typically makes an entry pass to her at the free-throw line and she either drives to the hoop from a spin move, passes to a cutter headed to the basket, or back out to Register who resets the play.
Early foul trouble on Fayette County’s Rikkelle Miller hurt the Lady Tiger game plan. Her ability to score from beyond the three-point line was paramount to keeping the Tigers in the game.
Fayette County’s senior guard combo of Trinity Brown and Meagan Barkley have been in Coach Strickland’s system since freshman year and are athletic and physical. Their play and leadership make them the favorite in Region 3-AAAAA.
Wesleyan freshman Alyssa Phillip has been getting increased playing time in Coach Azar’s system. There is a lot of depth in front of her, but you can see her potential. Great size and physical around the basket.
Coach Azar’s daughter, freshman Nicole is a three-point sharpshooter and another weapon off the bench for the Lady Wolves. She had two in the game.
At one point during the game, Coach Azar and Register were having a strategy conversation during a Fayette County free throw about the technical aspects of the upcoming possession. The discussion sounded like a graduate level class lecture. The Wesleyan basketball IQ is off the charts.
Fayette County has two post players that are getting their first significant playing time, sophomore Naomi Franco and junior Celine Akande. They have great potential to improve and give the guard-laden team more options as the season progresses.
Regardless of what the PA announcer said – it’s Wesleyan – not Wesley-Anne.
The Players of the Game, as determined by the teams’ head coaches were Maegan Barkley for Fayette County and Amaya Register for Wesleyan.
Up next – for Wesleyan, they face Miller Grove on Tuesday at the War Eagle Classic @ Woodward Academy. Fayette County travels to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the Crescom Invitational.
Wesleyan AC Carter – 27 points, 15 rebounds
Sutton West – 10 points, 10 rebounds
Amaya Register – 18 points, 6 assists
Fayette County Maegan Barkley – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
Rikkelle Miller – 16 points, 4 rebounds
Trinity Brown – 10 points, 6 assists
Sydney Sims – 4 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists
It’s still a week until Thanksgiving, but the menu for early season GHSA basketball games has whetted our appetite for the season ahead. One such game was the cross-county rivalry between two Final Four teams from last year, the Sandy Creek Patriots from AAAA and Fayette County from AAAAA. Playing before two huge student sections, the game stayed within six points the entire night. The ending was dramatic, as the Tigers would score the winning basket on their last possession for the 67-65 win.
Coach Andre Flynn is back on the Tiger bench, he has coached there for over 20 years, but the players that took them to the Final Four in Columbus have moved on. He is working with a clean slate, but because of his consistency and the system he employs, the new players know exactly how they fit in. This year’s group is built around athleticism and discipline. For Sandy Creek, they brought back much of the talent that took them to Augusta last year for the semifinals but have welcomed a new coach, Jon-Michael Nickerson. Coach Nickerson, who comes with an impressive resume as a player, high school coach and college coach, brings a more defensive mindset than the past. He has a deep, talented roster with height and leadership.
On this night, there was a buzz before the tip that lasted until the final whistle, both coaches and players would say it’s early, this is a non-region game, it is not that important in the grand scheme of things, but actually, it was important to them and their play proved that. In a game that was crisp and full of athleticism and sportsmanship, Sandy Creek took a two-point lead to half. You could tell the defensive energy that both coaches were looking for was there which kept the game low scoring.
The fourth quarter, which started with Fayette County ahead 48-45 was almost a blur. It felt like the first three quarters were warm up and this was for real. Josh Dupree and Rickey Knight would hit back-to-back threes to give the Tigers the largest lead of the night at six, only to see Sandy Creek come back. Jarred Godfrey would hit two threes himself within 15 seconds of each other and with 2:50 remaining, the Patriots were up 60-59. Ultimately, it came down to a tie game with under a minute. Fayette County point guard JeKobe Coleman, an ELCA transfer, worked from the top of the key as the Tigers waited patiently for their opportunity. With 9 seconds remaining, Coleman found Jordan Brown who had snuck in behind the Patriot zone defense for the game winning shot.
Sandy Creek had eight seconds, but Josh Dupree stole the basketball and ended the night
Afterwards Flynn said, “Our guys are so young, you don’t know how they will compete until the game starts, we did not play well on Saturday in a loss to East Coweta, but I am proud of how they fought tonight. We want to see how they respond when they get beat up because it gives you an indication of the growth. We will need to continue to grow as the year goes on.”
JeKobe Coleman threw the pass to Brown for the winning score just like he did this season for the Fayette County football team as their QB. He was very calm and collected, the moment was not too big for the sophomore. It is always great to see the two sport athletes play.
Jarred Godfrey has bought into Coach Nickerson’s philosophies on the court. Godfrey has developed into a true leader, the college watching last night loved his performance.
Patriot Kameron Miller has one speed – wide open; he scored, he passed, he rebounded and he was everywhere.
The Tigers are young and are liable to have a bad game from time to time, but they are good and will get better.
The Patriots lineup of Miller, Godfrey, TJ Bickerstaff, Xavier Brewer and Julian Alexander has a good mix of height and quickness.
Look for both teams to make noise in the post season.
2016-17 Record: 5-19 Head Coach: Karen Frady – 1st Season
Coach Frady will be the Lady Indians’ third head coach in three years. She is an East Coweta alumni with deep ties to the community. She envisions the beginning of a long process, but is excited about the challenge.
“When we first started, the girls did not know how to play man-to-man defense, they are just so used to losing. We are starting the process, we are challenging the girls to get a little better each day. It’s all about learning fundamentals. We need to stress fundamentals all day, every day. We will set some small goals for the season and try to achieve those first. Honestly, I’m not that concerned about wins and losses — my main thing is I want the girls to be better than they were at the start of the season, and it begins with getting the fundamentals down.”
In terms of this current squad, she said “We have six seniors, we have quickness, and the ladies are quick learners. We are going to focus on defense and on slowing the game down. That will be the best way for us to learn and follow the process.”
They are in one of the toughest regions in the state, Region 2, and the lessons are going to be painful, but look for Coach Frady to add some stability and take a few steps forward in the process. Alex Colton, London Fowler, Aja Manning and Haley Davis will be the players Frady will count on.
East Coweta Indians
2016-17 Record: 14-12 Head Coach: Royal Maxwell — 3rd Season
Assistant Coach Ty Townsend introduced the Indians team leaders; Derrick Emory, Brandon Stroud, Jamir Williams, Rhet Reynolds and Isaiah Richardson. The challenge for the upcoming season is to replace their big man that graduated last season, Elafayette Stone. Coach Townsend said it would be “a next man up mentality. There are a lot of returning players and we expect to be more disciplined. There is not a whole lot of tradition here, but we are looking to continue to build on last year and our expectations are higher this year.”
With the sting of last year’s season ending loss to Campbell in overtime, the players said, “This year, we have broken the season down into chapters, and we intend to read the whole book.”
Look for the Indians to improve on last seasons’ record and be a factor in the region tournament. They have already started an impressive resume with a solid win against a Fayette County team that made the Final Four last year in their opener.
Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Emily Sweeney – 1st Season
At Starr’s Mill, the ladies coach from last season, Shane Ratliff, was promoted and assistant Emily Sweeney has stepped into the top spot; it has been a big year from Sweeney who now has the head coaching job and just got married as well. She has implemented a motion offense and is currently working in more press defense looks. With the graduation of their post player from last season, the team will be built around the guard play of Alyssa Angelo and Alice Anne Hudson. Also key will be senior and returning starter Emily Nieuwstraten and freshman Ali Rumpel, in the middle, who adds height.
Angelo and Nieuwstraten have just made the transfer over from softball and have not missed a beat. Sweeney said, “Alyssa is like having a coach on the floor, she keeps everyone where they are supposed to be, and she is tough as nails.”
Their goal is make it back to the state playoffs, which will depend on how quickly the freshman gets up to speed and how the team jells to the new systems.
Starr’s Mill Panthers
2016-17 Record: 18-11 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Brandon Hutchins — 12th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 10
The Panthers return a large portion of the Sweet 16 team from last year that lost to Miller Grove in the playoffs. With a roster that includes eight seniors, Coach Hutchins says, “This is the best group I have ever been around.”
One omission from the team unfortunately is three-year starter Zach Pina, who transferred before his senior season to arch-rival McIntosh. Hutchins on the loss, “We miss Zach of course, he was a big part of this program, but we have moved on, it is next man up. Fortunately for us, everyone on the roster can handle the ball.” Senior Jake Bishop will take over the point guard duties in the Panther offense.
Starr’s Mill has a lot of height up front in 6-foot-7 Nate Allison, 6-foot-5 Drew Hudson and 6-foot-6 Chase Sands and Coach Hutchins indicted that junior Julian Lynch has opened some eyes in the preseason camp. Senior Drew Hudson said, “We went to a couple of college camps this summer and had success, we are excited.”
If Bishop can run the offense, look for the Panthers to make a state playoff return.
McIntosh Lady Chiefs
2016-17 Record: 20-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: Jessica Carlyle — 1st Season
When longtime McIntosh Lady Chief Head Coach David Dowse left after a successful 2016/17 campaign to take the Lumpkin County job, the Chiefs reached out to former Landmark Christian Head Coach Jessica Carlyle. Her first impression of the team was that the core players were serious about basketball. She said “My philosophy is very much different from what the players are used to. We have a very small roster, very short and we are going to play very serious in your face defense.”
Her leaders include Junior Kennedy Miller and Rylee Calhoun. Per Carlyle, “Kennedy is a phenomenal point guard and in the past her role was to distribute the ball, we will be asking her to take on more of the scoring responsibility this year. And Rylee, she seems to always have a basketball in her hand. She has a nice shot as well.”
At the college summer camps, Miller said “They taught us more about being a leader on the floor.”
You can bet that Carlyle’s new emphasis on defense will catch hold of her quick athletic team and they will be right in the middle of the playoff chase again.
2016-17 Record: 12-13 Head Coach: Jason Eisele — 16th Season Preseason Class AAAAA No. 7
Head Coach Jason Eisele is the dean of the Coweta/Fayette coaches as he embarks on his 16th season. Of his current edition, he said “We will not impress you off the bus, but our entire roster of 13 players are extremely skilled and we will cause match-up problems because of our speed and depth. We will be very flexible and can play a lot of different groups.”
A roster that includes six seniors includes two potential stars in transfer guard Zach Pina and 6-foot-7 wing player Cole Guenther. Pina is an efficient scorer who can drive to the rim or hit the outside shot. When asked about the whirlwind of his transfer, he said “It just feels good to be wearing green and black.”
Guenther has a deadly outside shot and if he is on, it can be lights out. Eisele said “Cole has worked hard over the summer on his ball handling skills and taking the ball to the rim to compliment his shot.” With the versatility and the leadership of Pina and Guenther, this could turn into a special mix. Eisele summed it by saying “we have a lot of selfless players, and we will play a lot faster than we ever have.”
Spalding Lady Jaguars
2016-17 Record: 22-7 (Elite Eight) Head Coach: Tykira Gilbert — 3rd Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 2
Head Coach Tykira Gilbert and the defending Region 2-AAAA Lady Jaguars are preparing for a special season. Starting her third year, Coach Gilbert said, “We have completely changed the culture of girls basketball here at Spalding in just three years.” As for this year’s team, Gilbert said “We will play fast, in your face defense, we love to press, that is who we are.” A lot of that speed and athleticism comes from Region 2-AAAA player of the year Kiana Banks, who won the state track championship in the 400 meter and just signed a track scholarship with TCU.
Gilbert will look for leadership from the point guard position from senior Kirah Milner. With a deep and talented roster and the star power of Banks and Milner, look for the Lady Jaguars to make a run at the state championship. When asked about the pressure of the high preseason rankings, Gilbert summed it up perfectly, “They don’t mean anything, it only matters how you finish.” Keep your eye on these ladies this year.
2016-17 Record: 3-22 Head Coach: Joey Wilder — 1st Season
New Jaguar Head Coach Joey Wilder is no stranger to the court. He has coached at Sandy Creek, Fayette County and Westlake. In 12 years of coaching, he won seven region championships, with one state runner-up and two final fours, and was named the assistant coach of the year. He brings that experience to begin to build the same excitement and energy that Coach Gilbert has with the ladies program.
Even with the poor record from last year, Wilder sees the pieces to begin the process. “We have very talented kids, we are learning and implementing accountability and dealing with our egos, we are slowly growing. But our roster has talent and I have seen improvement in all players. We are going from a slow tempo offense to more movement. We need to learn to trust each other and jell as a team.”
Leading the way will be junior leaders G Josh Reddick and 6-foot-8 center Phillip Richards. There are five seniors on the roster for leadership and a very strong junior class, including some incoming freshman and sophomores who will get some playing time. When just starting out, Wilder said, “It is always good to have a big man like PR.” Look for the Jaguars to be much improved and blow past last year’s win total.
Whitewater Lady Wildcats
2016-17 Record: 13-12 Head Coach: Rashad Muhyee — 5th year
After an injury riddled season last year, the Lady Wildcats are once again healthy and look to get back into the playoff conversation. Coach Muhyee said the team goals this year are to win the region and make it out of the first round. To accomplish, the Lady Wildcats will rely on talented juniors Jada Claude, 6-foot with a strong inside game, Courtney Smith, a scoring guard who is coming back from injury and Maya Bryant who also has the size to play inside.
When asked where they had improved the most during the off season, Smith said, “I have worked really hard on my ball handling,” while Claude said “ball handling, it will open up my scoring and passing lanes. In talking about their toughest opponents ahead, Muhyee said, “We don’t look at our opponents, we look at ourselves, we look at how we can improve and get better, and we feel like if we continue to work and improve then the wins will take care of themselves.”
2016-17 Record: 9-15 Head Coach: Fred West — 3rd Season
The story of the Wildcats last season was close but not close enough, they played well in a lot of games but couldn’t pull them out in the end. They enjoyed a couple of big wins against region rivals and state qualifiers Starr’s Mill and McIntosh, but the losses mounted as the season went along. They bring back a strong core in guards CJ Jackson, K’won Bush and Josh Lanier. Unfortunately, their leading scorer from last season Josh Graham has transferred to Pebblebrook.
After a successful summer at a Georgia State camp, the Wildcats look to add big man 6-foot-5 Isaiah Claude and guard Julian Johnson to the rotation. Playing with a smaller line up – the Wildcats will look to play a pesky full court defense and a motion offense that will allow their guards to get open looks. Expect to see a lot of energy and movement on the court. The Wildcats should inch their way back closer to .500 for the season and give a lot of teams match-up problems with their 4-guard sets.
Sandy Creek Lady Patriots
2016-17 Record: 24-7 (Final Four) Head Coach: Janie Hodges — 2nd Season
In her first season, Coach Hodges used an excellent senior backcourt to win the Region 5-AAAA Championship and take a run deep into the playoffs that ended against eventual champion Columbus. Graduation hit the Lady Patriots hard and now Coach Hodges is in charge of leading somewhat of a rebuild, but by no means is the cupboard bare.
While last year’s team was centered around the guard play, this team will strong inside. Returning are inside players junior Paris Thompson and sophomore Daija Powell. Both saw extensive playing time in Coach Hodges’ rotation last year and will be counted on to step up the production this season. Powell has an incredible post game and had several high scoring games last year.
The job of running the offense falls on junior Nina Lum who played significant minutes as a reserve last season. Hodges said, “Nina has been in the program for three years, she is experienced, and she is ready to lead the team.”
The key to the season will be how quickly Coach Hodges can work the new players into the rotations. The Lady Patriots already have a game under their belts against state powerhouse Westlake. Hodges said, “I am glad we played them, it showed us where we are and what we need to work on.” In those early season games, you either win or you learn, the Lady Patriots learned they are in transition, but the future is bright. Look for them to make another run to get into the playoffs.
Sandy Creek Patriots
2016-17 Record: 23-8 (Final Four) Head Coach: Jon-Michael Nickerson — 1st Season Preseason Class AAAA No. 3
The Patriots caught lightning in a bottle late last season and after a disappointing region tournament loss went on a run that took them to the Final Four where they lost to St. Pius. This started a transition within the program as a leadership change brought in Coach Nickerson who brings an impressive college resume. A lot of talent returns with 6-foot-8 wing TJ Bickerstaff, 6-foot-8 stretch forward Xavier Brewer, 6-foot-4 point guard Jarred Godfrey, Chris Porter and spark plug guard Kameron Miller. Coach Nickerson brings a tenacious defensive intensity to the team that was missing in the past.
When asked about the biggest difference between then and now, Miller said, “The practices are more intense and fast paced, there is purpose to everything we do.” Nickerson added, “This was a big change for the players and they bought in, I am proud of where we are, we still have a lot to add in over time, but we are getting there. It takes time to incorporate everything we will do into our game plan, but we are getting there and are ready to play.”
For the players that got a taste of post seasons last year, anything less than a championship with be disappointing. Look for the talented Patriots make a run.
2016-17 Record: 6-21 Head Coach: Willie Reese — 2nd Season
Former Georgia Tech star and assistant coach Willie Reese returns to Griffin for his second season with more reason for optimism. Griffin has a rich heritage in all spots and can boast of multiple state championships in basketball. His philosophy is to build and utilize multi-skill players.
Coach Reese said, “For some reason in the city of Griffin, we have a lot of 6’1 to 6’4 young men which is good because it lets us have interchangeable parts. This year, we will play nine or 10 deep, with six of those players returning from playing time last year. We are looking forward to a good season with steady improvement over last year.”
His key returners include two 2nd team all-region players from last year, point guard Jacarlin Dennis and senior guard Darrell Evans Jr. who is a four-year letterman. Coach Reese reminds his players last year when they were up on eventual Class AAAA champion Upson-Lee late in a game by four points only to see it slip away, that the talent is there, they just need to continue to work on the little things and on playing team basketball.
Reese said, “I learned from Coach Cremins and Coach Hewitt at Tech that it was about the little things, working with kids individually to continue to make small steps, that is what we are doing here at Griffin.”
The Bears will continue to improve this year and look to move up in the region standings; look for an upset or two as well.
Fayette County Lady Tigers
2016-17 Record: 21-9 (Sweet 16) Head Coach: John Strickland — 13th Season
Coach Strickland has been the model of success and consistency at Fayette County as head coach for 12 years and last season was no different. Strickland has gotten to the point of his career that others are envious of, it has now a legacy, not only with wins but with relationships. This is highlighted by one of his former players, Tessa Holt who played at Boston College and later coached in college, returning as an assistant for this season. That consistency builds confidence in his players that success is right there in front of them.
Lost from last year’s playoff team was leader Darryl Langford who plays at Navy now, but there is plenty of talent returning and the seniors on the roster have played together since middle school. They include guards Maegan Barkley, Trinity Brown and Rikkelle Miller. There is also height in 6-foot-2 sophomore Naomi Franco and freshman 6-foot-1 Celine Akande, both whom add a post presence. When you factor in junior guard Sidney Sims, the Tigers have a deep roster with multiple rotation possibilities.
Coach Strickland said, “To win in girls basketball, you have to make free throws and layups, it’s that simple. We know that and understand that, this team could be really good this year, we have a lot of leaders.”
The Lady Tigers will challenge for the region title and be right in the middle of the playoffs again.
2016-17 Record: 7-18 Head Coach: Maurice Smith — 5th season
The Vikings play in one of the toughest regions in the state, where last year both boys and the girls state champions came from, Region 5-AAAAAA. Under Coach Smith – the Vikes have improved their win total over the past three seasons and look to continue that trend this year and attempt to get over the hump and make some noise in the region tournament.
Coach Smith said, “We already know we can win, we just need to start winning those small battles within the game itself. This year’s roster is deep with 12 who will see playing time, including seven seniors. Leaders on the team include 6-foot-2 Jermarki Cunningham, 6-foot-5 Cam Ellis, 6-foot Perez McLaughlin and 6-fot-2 Devontae Johnson.”
The schedule is tough, Smith said, “from a region standpoint, there are no breaks, every game will be a battle. Our goal is to continue to prove and win two games in the region tournament. I know these guys have it in them. We are 12 deep and all of our players are similar, we have the depth to press and play fast. We don’t have a particular game circled on the schedule, we will just take them one game at a time and see where we end up.”
Look for the Vikings to ride the wave of their seniors and continue the trend of improving their win totals each season.
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Fayette County boys
Our Lady of Mercy boys
Our Lady of Mercy girls
FAYETTEVILLE, Georgia. The top-ranked Westlake Lady Lions opened the 2017/2018 basketball season with a scrimmage on the road against the Fayette County Tigers Wednesday night. Westlake has been to the Elite 8 three years in a row, but with the talent, depth and the top ranking, this season they want more. Coach Hilda Hankerson said, “Our ladies are excited about the #1 ranking, they are ready to compete.” The Lady Lions took that first step with a convincing 66-42 win over a very good Fayette County team.
Coach Hankerson has a powerhouse lineup with three pre-season Class AAAAAAA All-State players in Texas Tech signee Taylor Hosendove, Simone Lett and Shekinah Howard to go along with All-Region guard Anastasia Warren, Carlyse Hooks and Paris Mullins. To compliment their veteran roster are two impressive freshman as well, Raven Johnson and Brianna Turnage who will be making noise in the seasons ahead.
The game was tied at 6 at the four minute mark when the Lady Lions unleashed a suffocating full court pressure defense and quickly went on a 17-0 that put things away early. It did not help that Lady Tiger leader and three-point sharp shooter Rikkelle Miller got in foul trouble immediately and missed most of the first half. With Warren putting constant pressure on the ball, Fayette County struggled to put together scoring possessions.
The Lady Tigers found some answers after halftime and with Miller connecting on several 3s, the Lady Tigers were much more composed against the constant pressure and held their own. But Coach Hankerson was rolling fresh players constantly into the game. With their depth (Coach Hankerson has 15 players and they all look like they could start), they are equipped for a season that will see fatigue and foul troubles at some point. Warren led a balanced scoring attack for the Lady Lions with 12 and Hosendove added 11, while Miller lead the Fayette County offense with 10 points.
Afterwards, Hankerson was pleased but saw a lot of work ahead. When asked what they needed to work on after the game, she quipped, “Everything, but especially our rebounding and defensive rotations. Those areas were not where they needed to be. We have a lot of potential, but right now, we have a lot of things to work on.”
This is going to be a fun season to watch for Westlake. Leadership and the talent to raise the bar from the past three years and complete something special. The Fayette County Tigers will compete for the Region title in 2-AAAAAAA and will look to once again return to the state playoffs.
Class AAAAA contenders collided at Day 1 of the Peach State Classic held at Clayton State University and hosted by Revelle Williams. No. 4 Fayette County and No. 6 Southwest DeKalb both had a chance to make a statement and shakeup the poll with a strong performance.
Darius Hogan got the Panthers off to a good start with back-to-back threes, but Fayette County didn’t blink and played an exciting brand of basketball led by Furman-signee Noah Gurley at the backend of the defense. The long and lean 6-foot-8 forward swatted away three shots in the opening period as the Tigers held a 12-9 lead heading into the second quarter.
Fayette County ran out to a 10-2 run to open the second quarter and led 22-11 following an Austin Nesmith alley-oop to Gurley. Sophomore Josh Dupree got loose in the quarter and scored nine of his 11 points, slicing to the basket and showing a deft jumper. The Tigers led 37-22 at the half using a balanced scoring attack.
Midway through the third quarter, Fayette County continued to extend its lead going up 40-24. Josh Archer and Mandarius Dickerson struck life into the Panthers and helped Southwest DeKalb close on a 15-4 run.
Nesmith drove to the basket late and didn’t get a foul call and barked at the referee which resulted in a technical with 1.2 seconds left. Hogan sank both free throws cutting the Tigers lead to 44-39 entering the fourth.
Southwest DeKalb’s steady climb back into the game rolled on. At the 4:51 mark, it looked like Gurley got a clean block on Eugene Brown III, but instead a goaltend was called and the lead was trimmed to 46-45.
The Panthers finally took their first lead of the second half off Kadarius Johnson’s offensive rebound and put-back with 4:10 left at 47-46, but the lead was short lived as Phillip Young sank a pair of free throws. Nesmith made it a three point game with 2:50 remaining on a floater.
Jaylen Holloway added on an And-1 layup, but missed the free throw, keeping it at 54-49, but Dickerson came down and drilled a three to make it a one possession game with 2:17 to play. Just six seconds later, the Panthers suffered a huge blow as Dickerson, their leading scorer, fouled out with a team-high 15 points.
With 59 ticks left after weaving around the defense and running some clock, Nesmith tossed another alley-oop to Gurley to extend the lead to 58-52.
Quincy Carter added a layup with 23.9 seconds remaining to make it 60-56 and Archer got a steal, but he missed the frontend of a 1-and-1 with 17.2 seconds left and Gurley grabbed the board and dished ahead to Young who was fouled and drained both free throws. The Tigers iced the game at the line, going 14-of-15 in the fourth quarter and 25-of-29 for the game.
This felt like an Elite Eight matchup; maybe even deeper. The Tigers look seriously poised to make a deep run at state this year with their bevy of seniors. The only question will be their depth if they get into foul trouble. Noah Gurley was dynamic defensively, blocking seven shots and flirting with a double-double. Four guys scored in double-figures for a balanced offense. Phillip Young is an active and willing rebounder from his guard position and his 12 points and 11 rebounds prove that. The lefty did a good job at getting to the foul line and converted when he was there, going 8-for-8. Fayette County’s excellent free throw shooting as a team will bode well come tournament time. Sophomore Josh Dupree was impressive with his explosiveness and jumper. He put on the quickest and tightest crossover I’ve seen all year in the first half. I would have liked to see him make more of an impact in the second half however as he was shutout over the final 16 minutes. Austin Nesmith is a clean ball handler while Jaylen Holloway brought some energy and toughness off the bench.
I feel like Southwest DeKalb is at its best when they are pressing. They used it on and off and it helped them get back into the game in the second half as they sped up the Tigers. Mandarius Dickerson played very well before fouling out. He was aggressive and it was the best I’ve seen him play in a Panther uniform. Coach Eugene Brown’s depth is fun to watch. He can throw flanks of men out there and each can contribute in their own way. Eight different players scored tonight. Tabais Long didn’t get in, but when he’s available he brings a nice physical presence to the low post. Southwest DeKalb’s aggressive defense led to 15 steals paced by four apiece from Darius Hogan and Kadarius Johnson. Offensively, I liked how the Panthers swung the ball around the perimeter which often led to open shots, even though Southwest only hit two threes outside of Hogan’s opening two from distance. The Panthers could have rolled over and took a beating when they were down 15 at the half but Coach Brown and staff does a great job of keeping them focused and not letting them give in. They fought back and took a lead in the fourth quarter, which is all you can ask for after a large early deficit.