By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Two of the best private school teams in the Memphis area took to the court Jan. 9 in the TRA Gymnasium.
The FACS Crusaders came into the contest with only one defeat. Meanwhile the host Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels entered the showdown looking to notch another impressive win on their resume’.
After 16 minutes of action, the Crusaders illustrated why they are one of the top teams grabbing a 34-26 lead at halftime. That set the table for the Rebels to prove their standing going on a 12-2 run to take a 38-36.
The stage was set for both squads to battle down the stretch of the fourth quarter with FACS prevailing 65-62.
“I’ve been trying to tell the guys after we started winning, you don’t get to relax,” TRA Head Coach Chris Anderson. “Teams took you lightly last year because they knew that there were no expectations over here. Now the coach doesn’t have to motivate his team to come out here and play hard. Now we’re getting teams that are equal to us or better that are giving 100 percent. And our boys are not used to that type of effort coming from other teams.”
Behind the outside shooting of Johnny Williams, Ibn Doggett, Koby Jeffries and James Matthews, FACS held the advantage majority of the first half. The Crusaders were ahead 18-13 after the first quarter.
FACS outscored the Rebels 16-13 in the second quarter to hold an 8-point lead at the break. The lackluster first half sparked Anderson to challenge his Rebels in the locker room.
“I just told them, ‘You have to go out and execute. You have to have the heart of a lion. Be aggressive,’” he recalled. “But not only a lion’s heart, you’ve got to be wise enough to be in the right spot. And when we start making our run, which we did, you have to keep your composure to continue to make plays. You can’t get overly excited.”
Excitement was felt for the Rebel faithful when TRA started to execute and make plays early in the third quarter.
One of the key driving forces during that stretch was Rebel point guard Andrew Anderson. Anderson along with fellow backcourt mate Carter Weakley pressured the FACS guards into turnovers.
Anderson was able to transform those turnovers into a couple of floaters in the lane. Another Crusader turnover became a Weakley layup giving TRA a 38-36 lead.
The Rebels outscored FACS 12-11 the rest of the quarter to hold a 50-47 advantage entering the fourth period.
The Crusaders regained the lead 51-50 with buckets from Jelani Willis and Doggett. The remainder of the quarter saw two ties and five lead changes.
TRA was ahead 59-55 after a Howard Gray triple. Then with the score 59-56, the turning point of the game took place with the Rebels still applying pressure the length of the court.
Weakley fouled Willis near mid court. After the whistle blew, a technical foul was called on TRA sending the Rebel faithful into a frenzy.
Jeffries stepped to the foul line to take the technical free throws making them both. Jeffries did not leave the line and also took the foul shots giving the Crusaders a 60-59 advantage.
With FACS ahead 62-59, Weakley drove to the rim and converted on a layup to cut the deficit to a point. Moments later Weakley made a foul shot to deadlock the contest at 62-62 with 31.9 left on the clock.
FACS was able to take the lead and win the game with Jeffries at the line once again. He made 3 of 4 foul shots in the final seconds to win the game.
“As the leader of the team, I have to find our leader on the court,” Anderson said. “I can’t make that individual the leader. That individual has to step up and decide he wants to be the leader. Then we have to have the confidence to go out there and win.
“February is going to be tougher,” he concluded. “You have two seasons, the preseason of the regular season to where you’re playing non-district. Then you have district which is your second season. Then you have the postseason coming up. Everybody is going to be playing hard.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.