Many of the Knights and Lady Knights saw their first basketball game action of the year on the hardwood Tuesday night in LaGrange. However, some key players for both teams did not get in the games, and it proved costly to their teams, but not in the long run. The games Tuesday in LaGrange were just scrimmage games, and both the Lady Knights and Knights suffered losses in the contests.
The Lady Knights hung tough with the Lady Grangers from LaGrange for three quarters, but in the end the numbers game caught up with Upson-Lee. The Lady Knights only dressed out eight players for the game, with four other players missing the game due to various reasons. One of those players, returning point guard Kiashona Carter, was deeply missed. As a result, the Lady Knights finished the first half with a whopping 22 turnovers. The Lady Grangers, who finished 22-7 last season, took advantage of the Lady Knights turnovers to hold a 23-12 lead at halftime, after UL held their own in the first quarter.
“I thought we played well in spurts,” said Lady Knights head coach Bart Phillips. “We played well in the first and third quarters, but we got tired in the second and fourth quarters, which is expected only having eight players in the first game action of the season. I’m happy with the way everything turned out. We accomplished two things I wanted to do in the game, not get anyone hurt and play hard.”
Upson-Lee senior Keondra Ausbrooks led the Lady Knights with 11 points, while grabbing eight rebounds, blocking four shots, and collecting three steals. However, it was Ausbrooks’ struggles from the free throw line which could cause some concern. The 5’11 senior post player only made 1 of 8 free throws in the game. The Lady Knights held their own once again in the third quarter, outscoring LaGrange 13-11, but it was the Lady Grangers who were able to sub in and out at will and press for most of the game, something that led to the Lady Knights’ demise in the fourth quarter.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Lady Knights had suffered a 56-40 loss. On the bright side for Upson-Lee was the coming out party so to speak for Jalessa Gibson and Kyjah Kendall. Gibson, a 6’0 senior, finished with six points and eight rebounds, while the 6’2 freshman Kendall added four points and snagged down six rebounds.
The Lady Knights will now turn their focus to their first regular season game of the year on Saturday night. Coach Phillips and his squad will travel to Taylor County to take on the much heralded Lady Vikings. Last season the Lady Vikings had what some from Taylor County called a “down year,” finishing with a 16-14 record. However, they did advance all the way to the Sweet 16 in the State Playoffs and defeated Upson-Lee twice last season by scores of 70-41 and 62-43. The Lady Knights and Lady Vikings will tip off their 2013-14 seasons on Saturday night in Butler at 6 p.m.
On the boys side of the action Tuesday night, it was a near carbon copy of the Lady Knights performance. The Knights missed their two starting back court players in point guard Toby Fuentes and shooting guard O’Qualon Harris. It was sophomore Tigger Walker who filled in for Fuentes, and played well defensively.
The biggest contrast between the two teams was the ability of the Grangers to knock down open shots in space. Without their two starting guards in the contest, it seemed like the Knights had trouble with some of the LaGrange ball pressure. The Grangers started the game out on fire from all over the court, knocking down (3) three pointers, and taking a commanding 25-9 lead on the Knights at the end of the first quarter. The rest of the game was played pretty closely by both teams, but after the big first quarter lead, the Knights could never cut the lead to more than eight points, when a three-pointer from Malik Crafter cut the Granger lead to 38-30 early in the third quarter. Crafter led the Knights in scoring with 15 points, including shooting 4 of 6 from three-point range.
“We found ourselves out of position defensively in the first quarter, and left them wide open shots which they nailed,”said Knights head coach Darrell Lockhart. “I thought we got a little better defensively as the game went along, and I could tell we were missing our floor general out there (Fuentes). We did some good thing offensively, but I didn’t really expect us to come out and score a bunch of points. We have been working on defense, which in the end will get our offense going in transition. I think once some of these guys get their basketball legs under them, we should be just fine.”
The Knights hope to find those legs before heading to Taylor County for their season opener on Saturday night. These two teams know each other very well, and over the last three years all six games have been won by single digits. Last season, the Vikings finished with a record of 21-9 and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the State Playoffs, beating UL twice by scores of 68-64 and 47-41.
If the Knights are to be successful Saturday night, they will need to contain Gedarius Troutman. The 6’3 guard has offers from Division I schools Southern University and Youngstown State, while also drawing interest from Winthrop and Duquesne. Tip off is slated tentatively for 7:30 p.m.