For certain athletes time runs slowly in tense, hectic moments. When that happens, it’s usually bad for their opponents.
On Dec. 18, when everyone else was scurrying frantically for the ball, Brandon Mitchell calmly fought his way between Owen County’s twin towers-Carson Williams and Justin Shelton-and the basket.
Trent Overall’s 3-point shot glanced off the front of the rim and fell into Mitchell’s hand with about 3 seconds on the clock.
Mitchell knew that he had no chance to get off a successful shot, so he took two dribbles out along the baseline, turned and arched a half hook high over the outstretched arms of Williams and Shelton. The ball nestled gently into the net as time expired and the Warriors had their second big buzzer-beater moment of the season— a 67-65 victory over Owen County.
The opening minutes of the game left no doubt that it was going to be an exciting one.
The Warriors, led by the shooting of Jalen Dixie and Overall, were going to try to win by outshooting the Rebels from the perimeter and the Rebels were going to use their superior size to pound the ball close to the basket for easy shots. Both teams had success early with their strategies: the pace was fast and the baskets came in bunches
The Warriors jumped out to a 6-0 lead on two Dixie 3-pointers. The Rebels responded with a variety of inside shots by Williams and a 3-pointer by Zach Ripy to go up 11-9. The Rebels weren’t the methodical, plodding team some may have thought. Their big men could run the floor and they beat the Warriors in transition for two easy layups during the 11-3 run.
But the Warriors had the answer in the form of Overall who came into the game around the 4-minute mark to join in on the 3-point party with Dixie. Overall’s bomb gave the Warriors the lead back and from there the teams traded buckets, with Brooklyn Rucker getting the last 3-pointer of the quarter to give the Warriors a 19-17 lead after one period.
The Warriors scored just one 2-point field goal in the period. It was a 3-point attempt by Dixie but his foot was on the line and counted only for two. Eminence had five 3-pointers and two free throws in the quarter.
The second period was more of the same as Owen opened with a basket inside and Dixie countered with a 3-pointer. The lead went back and forth with neither team leading by more than three points. Owen edged out to a 33-32 lead at halftime.
The Warriors had no 2-pointers in the period as Dixie and Overall had three more bombs and Daishon Moore added a free throw. Meanwhile, Owen County’s big freshman Carson Williams led his team with 12 points in the first half.
As the teams went into the locker room it was still unclear whose style of play was going to win out.
As the third quarter unfolded, it appeared that the old adage, ‘live by the three, die by the three’ was appropriate as the Warriors went cold from the perimeter.
On the other end the Rebels continued to pound it inside with the occasional 3-point dagger from Hunter Trenary thrown in for good measure. The Warriors managed just 11 points in the quarter to Owen’s 18 falling behind 51-43.
The looks on the Warriors’ faces as they walked to the huddle were not happy ones or even defiant, they looked a little beaten. But Coach Chris Nethery gave a fiery speech to his players, pointing to the scoreboard and saying that the lead was only eight points and that they had come back from larger margins before and the Warriors came out ready to make another comeback attempt.
Owen again opened the period with an inside basket to extend the lead to 10 points but Dixie had the answer from long range. After Eminence got a defensive stop, Overall added another bomb and the lead shrank to 4. Owen built the lead back to eight at 57-49 but Dixie hit two free throws and then stole the ball deep on the Owen County end and passed to Mitchell who immediately found a streaking Rucker for the layup cutting the lead back to 4 and energizing the crowd.
After an Owen County put-back, Mitchell- who had a strangely quiet offensive night- hit a shot inside. The teams traded baskets to keep the margin at four points.
With 2:08 remaining the Warriors called timeout in order to set up their press. The Rebels, however, were ready and got the ball to Williams- who was fouled as he tried to bring the ball up the floor.
Williams stepped to the line having hit six-of-eight free throws on the night and missed the front end of a bonus situation. The Warriors rebounded and moved down the court looking to cut into the lead. Dixie drove the baseline looking for an opening to the basket but found Owen’s tall timber in his way and as he leapt into the air, he found Rucker waiting outside the arc. Rucker hit the bomb to cut the lead to one point at 61-60.
EHS quickly set up their press and Rucker stole the ball and scored on a layup to give the Warriors the lead with 1:21 left on the clock.
The Rebels called timeout and set Ripy up for a drive to the basket. He was fouled, calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws to give the lead back to the Rebels.
Rucker wasn’t finished with his heroics. Eminence missed a shot to regain the lead but Justin Mitchell corralled the long rebound, his seventh of the night, and fed Rucker who nailed another long range shot to put the Warriors up 65-63 with 40 seconds left.
Owen rushed down court and tried to get the ball inside, but Brandon Mitchell stepped into the passing lane and picked it off. Mitchell had clear sailing to the basket but lost control of his dribble and traveled. It had been that kind of night for the Warrior big man.
With 28 seconds to go Owen County called timeout to set up a play to get the tying basket. Ripy’s number was called again and again the Rebel guard was fouled. He stepped to the line and nailed two more free throws to tie the score with 14 second to go. That set up Brandon Mitchell’s final heroics who persevered despite an off night and got the final basket to give the Warriors their second district win of the season.
After the game Nethery talked about his team’s ability to take a punch. He said, “I’m really proud of the way the kids responded to adversity being down 10 in the 4th quarter and coming back again.”
“Everybody contributed in some way. Jalen had another great offensive night with 27 points, Trent hit clutch threes all night and Brandon didn’t have a great game, but he always gives you effort and is there for you in the end. Justin had a couple of important rebounds and played good defense down the stretch. As for Brooklyn, he showed up and made clutch plays and played very well in the fourth quarter. We’ve been expecting that all year. Maybe this will be his coming out party.”
Middlesboro 58, EHS 52
The Warriors traveled to Monticello on Thursday to take part in the All “A” Shootout and encountered unusual circumstances.
The Warriors played well in the opening period to grab a 13-10 lead and scored the opening basket of the second period when an electrical fire in the school caused the gym to fill with smoke.
The game was halted and the gym evacuated but school officials delayed a decision on whether the game could be resumed after the smoke was cleared from the gym.
The Warriors waited until after 11 p.m. before the decision was made to delay the game until Friday morning. The Warriors returned to their hotel at 11:38 facing the prospect of resuming the game at 9 a.m. the next morning.
When play resumed, the Warriors had lost their momentum from the night before and Middlesboro’s coaches made an important defensive adjustment. They switched to a 1-3-1 trap, which the Warriors handled for the most part.
“It slowed us down but we got a lot of good looks and just couldn’t knock them down,” Nethery said.
The Warriors led at halftime 25-24 but Middlesboro tied the score by the end of the third period and went on to the 6-point win.
Caverna 81, EHS 79
The Warriors had a short turnaround as they had to play in the first scheduled consolation bracket game immediately following the loss to Middlesboro.
The Warriors played like a tired team who had just lost a tightly contested game.
Caverna jumped all over the Warriors and raced to a 52-32 halftime lead.
“We were tired and kind of laid down and quit a little bit in the first half,” Nethery said. “I questioned their effort at halftime and the kids responded well in the second half.”
The Warriors came storming back and cut the lead to 5 points by the end of the third quarter at 63-58.
The Warriors weren’t finished as they took the lead early in the fourth quarter. But Caverna regained the lead before Brandon Mitchell hit a game-tying shot with 5 seconds remaining.
Caverna elected not to call a timeout and inbounded the ball and raced up court to hit a running 17-footer as time expired.
“It was a tough way to lose,” Nethery said.
“The ball banked hard off the glass and went in as the buzzer sounded. I’m proud of the team’s effort to get back in a game that looked like it was over at halftime.”