By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The 2012-13 Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels were plaqued by three factors.
Many of the team’s close defeats could be blamed on crucial turnovers, too many three-point shots and poor foul shooting down the stretch.
Early this season, Jason Morgan’s crew pulled out a thriller on the road at Northpoint by protecting the ball and taking smart shots. Last Wednesday the Rebels had another shot to prove they’re still improving on last season’s woes.
With their offense ineffective in the TRA Gymnasium in the last game of the 2013 Turkey Shootout against rival Rossville Christian Academy, the Rebels stepped to the foul line to close out the game.
TRA was protecting a 30-28 lead with 5 minutes and 41 seconds remaining in the game. Over the next four minutes Rebels like Logan Stewart and Johnie Sanfratello made 11 of 12 free throws leading to a 43-28 win.
“That was a bugger for us last year,” Morgan acknowledged. “We were 57 percent as a team. We would fight so hard and be in ball games. I can remember 12 games last year where free throw shooting was one thing we could point to after a close lost and say, ‘If we made some free throws, we would have been better off.’”
Sophomore guard Sanfratello said from practice to practice, the Rebels are fully aware of the importance of improving on that 57 percent statistic.
“It was just a team effort and everybody did what they were supposed to do,” he said. “And we came out with a win. It’s getting in the gym and getting after it everyday.”
It was Rebel Conner Sanders getting after it early with a pair of three-pointers to give TRA a 6-4 lead. Rossville battled back to take a 9-8 lead. But it was a steal and lay-up by Sanfratello that gave the Rebels a narrow 10-9 lead heading into the second quarter.
Then it seemed the cold weather outside transported its way onto the TRA hardwood effecting both offenses. The Wolves scored 4 points, meanwhile the Rebels barely beat their output with 6 points.
“Offense was ugly,” Morgan acknowledged. “I’m not going to say a thing about Rossville. But my team was absolutely hideous. I think we scored 6 points in the second quarter. I know they say, ‘Offense was a premium.’ I don’t know what the oppositite of premium is, but that is what it was tonight.”
TRA did score 11 points in the third quarter and Rossville kept pace with 11 points of their own to trail 27-24 entering the fourth quarter.
After a Sanfratello three-pointer TRA was ahead 30-24. The Wolves trimmed the Rebel advantage to 30-28. Then over a four-minute span TRA used foul shots from Stewart and Sanfratello to ice the game.
“Hitting the free throws gave us a little bit of a cushion,” Morgan said. “And it probably affect their shooting percentage. They didn’t shoot well in the fourth quarter. Every free throw we hit put some extra weight on their shoulders.”
The Wolves missed long range shot after shot trying to get back into the game. It was the rebound of Houston Hall, Matt Moody and Stewart that led to the extra possessions for TRA. The final bucket of the night came when Moody scored on a put-back.
“When it get tough, we’ve got to push through it and keep doing what we’ve been learning to do,” Sanfratello said. “It’s a big confidence builder.”
Once again showing improvement on phases of the game he noted in the preseason, Morgan was smiling leaving the gym on Thanksgiving Eve.
“Good win and glad to see some younger guys step up without three of our seniors for one reason or another,” he concluded. “We’ll take it.”