The Upson-Lee Runnin’ Knights (11-13) are at the bottom looking up. As the No. 6 seed from the “B” side of the Region, the Knights took on the No. 5 seed from the “A” side of the region (Locust Grove, 3-21) on Saturday night.
Upson-Lee faced off with the Wildcats back in December, and easily cruised to a 66-48 road victory. However, in Saturday night’s opening round game at Dutchtown, the Knights held off a late rally from Locust Grove to earn a 69-67 victory. Midway through the third quarter, the Knights held a 46-26 lead. Upson-Lee allowed 45 points to Locust Grove in the second half of the game, 45 points to a team that only averaged 44 points per game during the season.
“I hope we learned a lesson tonight,” said Upson-Lee head coach Darrell Lockhart. “We had a big lead at halftime and the guys thought they could come out in the second half and do their own thing. Like I told them, doing your own thing will get you beat. We played really good defense in the first half, but in the second half we never even stopped the ball. We allowed too many uncontested shots and allowed them to drive to the basket whenever they wanted. We cannot expect to win our next game playing like we did in the second half of this game. If we do, we will get run out of the gym before halftime.”
The Knights got a career performance from senior post player Travis Pittman. The 6’3 senior had been in Coach Lockhart’s “dog house” a few weeks ago, but as of late he has been playing good basketball. Pittman scored a career high 23 points, including a rim-rocking dunk just before halftime, and also hauled in 11 rebounds.
“Pitt has played well pretty much all season long,” said Lockhart. “He was in double figures in our first 11 games of the season. He hit a rough patch towards the middle of the season, but he has responded well and tonight he stepped up and led us to a victory. We need him and some of the other upperclassmen to step up for us this week.”
The Knights and the Wildcats each started the game off a little flat, with each team missing on their first three shot attempts. However, UL jumped out to a 10-4 lead with just 4:21 left to go in the first quarter after getting easy buckets off of Locust Grove turnovers. The Knights played a 1-2-2 full court press which pestered the Wildcats during the first half of the game. At the end of the first quarter, UL led Locust Grove 23-12.
In the second quarter, Upson-Lee continued to turn up the defensive pressure on the Wildcats. UL’s Pittman and David Marshall dominated the glass in the first half of the game, limiting the Wildcats to just one shot opportunity per possession. Marshall, who finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds, came down with a stomach bug in the second half of the game and only played sparingly.
As the first half came to a close, Upson-Lee led Locust Grove 41-22, and it seemed as if the Knights were destined to another big victory over Locust Grove.
After only a minute had passed in the third quarter, it was evident that the Wildcats were not going to just give up on the game. Locust Grove came out drilling three-pointers and making shots in the paint. The Cats were able to penetrate the UL defense and get pretty much any shot they wished.
By the 3:29 mark of the fourth quarter, the Cats had cut the Knights lead to 57-53. Upson-Lee turned to Pittman once again late in the game, and the senior delivered. Pittman scored seven of his 23 points in the game in the last three minutes of regulation. Pittman also made eight of his nine free throw attempts in the game, including two late free throws to give Upson-Lee a five point 69-64 lead with just six seconds to go in the game. Locust Grove heaved a shot from half court which was good at the buzzer, as the Knights held on for a 69-67 victory.
Pittman paced the Knights with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman David Marshall overcame a stomach virus to finish with 14 points and seven rebounds. The freshman duo of O’qualon Harris and Kenderius Pennyman finished with 22 total points, each scoring 11 points. Senior Corey Moss added five points and four rebounds off the bench, Caleb Ward scored three points, and point guard Toby Fuentes finished with two points, six assists, and five steals.
The Knights had a showdown with the Jaguars from Spalding on Monday evening in the second round of the tournament. The Knights and the Jags split during the season, with each winning a game on the other team’s home court. Upson-Lee downed Spalding 79-76 in overtime, while the Jags defeated Upson-Lee 60-58 just a week ago.
“I expect Monday’s game to be another close one,” said Lockhart. “We have got to do a better job taking care of the basketball. That’s something that really hurt us last week when we played them. If we play our best basketball and limit our turnovers, I think we will be okay.”
The results of the Knights tournament game with Spalding was not available by press time. The winner of the game will play Eagles Landing (20-5) at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow night at Woodland High School. Go to www.thomastontimes.com or our Facebook page to get the latest news on the Region 4 Basketball Tournament, including the scores from Monday night, when the Knights battled Spalding and the Lady Knights took on Eagles Landing.