Wildcats back on track with win over Bolivar
Fayette-Ware’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality almost cost it a district basketball game on Friday.
After starting the game on a 17-1 run, the Wildcats broke a late 71-71 tie with Bolivar Central to win 81-77 at Bolivar.
“I call our team Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It depends on what team shows up,” said Fayette-Ware Coach Marcus Stokes. “If the team that shows up that was 10-0 then we will be OK. But if the team that shows up is that team that happened in the month of December then it will be a little struggle. But it seems they like it that way.”
The Wildcats were ranked among the top 12 teams in Shelby-Metro before their dreadful December. They have endured losing streaks of three games and four games throughout the season.
The District 14-AA win over Bolivar improved their record to 17-8 (4-3 district) while the Tigers fell to 6-16 (2-5).
When the Wildcats started 10-0, “We were thinking that we were the best in the world and the best in the business. It caught up with us,” said Fayette-Ware’s Tivarsky Freeman, who scored nine points against Bolivar.
“Walking in the gym, they think they could win,” echoed Fayette-Ware assistant coach Sergio Catrion, a former Fayette-Ware player.
Playing true to the “TDQ” on their shorts and warmups and the scoreboard, Bolivar fought the Cats evenly after the first quarter.
Led by gritty senior point guard Kaleb McKinnie, who finished with 20 points, and Cornelius Polk, who had 26 points, the Tigers pulled to within 13 points at halftime and eight by the end of the third quarter.
Down 71-62 halfway through the fourth, Polk hit two free throws and a basket and Fabion Cross a trey before McKinnie tied the game on free throws at 71 with 2:42 left.
The Wildcats would regain a lead they would never lose when they turned it over to Mikkel Norment. He scored four free throws, a basket and got a steal that led to points and a 79-72 lead with 1:14 left.
The Tigers’ Javonte Crisp’s 3-pointer put them within 79-77 with 27.4 seconds left.
“You have a big hole to dig yourself and try to climb out of it. It happened at their place (an 85-65 loss to the Wildcats earlier). We fought back (then) to get back in it, not as well as we did tonight,” said Bolivar coach Rick Rudesill. “You’ve got to be proud of our guys’ effort and toughness but we are tired of saying that. We want to start winning ball games and that means playing a complete game and starting a little better. Fighting back in the ball games like we have been doing will at least give us some confidence. We are definitely building character. We have to get to start the ball game in confidence.”
Stokes had warned his players. “Bolivar is a well-coached team. We knew that this was going to be a dog fight. We kept telling them it’s not over. They are going to keep fighting. They are a hard-nosed team. We are having growing pains, it’s something that we have got to learn to do. We have got to put the nail in the coffin.”
Before most of the current Bolivar players were born, Rudesill’s teams played with the motto “TDQ,” Tigers Don’t Quit.
“The older guys coming back are upset with the losses and they see guys pouring their hearts out on the floor and see the TDQ is still there. You can lose on the scoreboard but still win with effort and giving it your all and walk off with your head held high. Fortunately, our guys have really bought into that, even on down years like this. They may not be many victories you can still be proud of them,” said Rudesill.
There are three state champions banners in the Bolivar gym. The Tigers won state championships in 2004 with a 31-4 record), 2005 (29-5) and 2010 (32-4). There is also a Final Four banner from 2008-09 (31-4). All were coached by Rudesill who is in 19th year at Bolivar. He coached five years at University School of Jackson. In January against McNairy Central, Rudesill got his 700th career win.
The Wildcats began the game doing what Stokes wanted them to do. “We try to win the first three minutes of every quarter,” he said.
Norment scored the first of his 21 team-high points on a trey and Tyran Gilcrease hit another one. Gilcrease’s second trey made it 13-1 and a layup by Norment gave the Wildcats a 22-3 lead. McKinnie, who leads the Tigers in scoring with a 13.5 average, hit a 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer. The Tigers trailed 22-8.
“After the 15-1 start, we should have kept pushing and kept going and should never let back,” said Freeman. “That is how they came back. We should never have that mentality. We should have get going hard, playing defense.”
Free throws by Freeman gave Fayette-Ware its biggest lead of the second quarter, 30-11. A dunk by D.J. Jackson put the Wildcats on top 32-17 with 3:22 left. A trey by Maradarius McNeal made it a 14-point Wildcat lead, 41-27. It was 43-29 at halftime.
“This game is not over. If you think it is over, there is something wrong with you,” said Stokes of his halftime message. “I saw that we stuck together through adversity. They made their runs.”
Rudesill told his team to “calm down,” said McKinnie, “and play ball like we how know to, do the little things and the big will happen and it did.”
Said Rudesill, “We wanted to keep it simple. We want to make it hard on them on defense and that doesn’t mean we get a stop every time but we want to make it hard every time. On offense we want to make it easy every time, easy pass, easy pass, easy pass, shot. But a lot of times we start forcing it on both ends.“
The Tigers’ hitting 22 of 27 free throws in the second half (26 of 37 for the game) was a key factor in their rally.
“That is great. We haven’t been shooting free throws well,” said Rudesill.
A trey by Cross cut it to 46-32. Polk hit a basket and two free throws and the Tigers were within 50-43 with 5:06 left in the third quarter. McNeal’s trey gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead before McKinnie sank two free throws and the Tigers were within 61-53 at the end of the third quarter.
McKinnie’s layup pulled them within 61-57 with 7:05 left to play. After a steal and score by McNeal, the Wildcats led 67-60 with 6:03 left. Cortavious Miller put the Wildcats on top 71-62. Two free throws by Polk, a trey by Cross, a goal by Polk and then McKinnie’s free throws tied it at 71.
With the game tied, Freeman said that his team stayed steady. He used a quote from the Green Bay Packers quarterback.
“In the great words of Aaron Rodgers, relax. We played relaxed,” he said.
Free throws by Norment broke the tie at 73-71 with 2:09 left. McKinnie sliced the lead to 73-72. Another Norment free throw sealed it with 3.4 seconds left.
“We played tight in the first quarter but in the second quarter and third and fourth, we played with them. We just got to calm down and play our ball,” said McKinnie. “Our fight, our hustle, not giving up on plays, we chipped away. When our fans got into it, that is when we started getting pumped up.”
Rudesill said to forge the tie at 71, “We were doing little things. To use a baseball analogy, we quit going for the home run, but base hit and bunt. We do little things, just don’t play at their speed because we can’t. They are athletic, they are all lanky and we have just go to play our style and we finally started doing that.”
Stokes said, “We had a good start but as always, when you are dealing with youngsters, it’s hard to keep that intensity up. Bolivar is a well-coached team. He made his adjustments. They came out and made their free throws. We missed ours. That is definitely something that we have to work on. A lot of it is concentration.”
The Wildcats sank 21 of 35 free throws. Markerro Broadnax and D.J. Jackson each scored 10. Miller scored 16, McNeal 8, Gilcrease 6. The Tigers had four players in double figures. Along with McKinnie, whose right eye was scratched in the third quarter, and Polk, who averages 11.2 points, Cross and Crisp scored 12 each. David Terburgh scored 4, Christian Clark 2, Keshun Burkley 1. Crisp is the Tigers’ leading rebounder, averaging 8.6 points.
“We were led by Mikkel with his energy,” said Stokes, in his third year as head coach. “Miller had down-low presence. When he is ready to play, he lets us know. I like the way Cortavious played defense and Tyran. “It was an all-around effort. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. They are trying to break this stigma that Fayette-Ware has that we lose concentration at this time of the year. They really care. I think a lot of times they put too much pressure on themselves, instead of going out and relaxing and having fun.”
Freeman said, “We could have played better than we did but I’m glad we got the win. It starts off in practice. We do three-minute drills and it kicked in today.”
Polk’s scoring, especially in the second half, McKinnie’s play and scoring and Crisp impressed Rudesill. “Javonte Crisp is just a warrior on the boards,” said Rudesill. “The kids were battling and playing defense and rebounding. We are still missing too many easy baskets. That is what killed us the first quarter. Defensively, we did decent after the first quarter. We did better on turnovers. In the first quarter, we missed too many free layups. It was in and out, like the bucket had a lid on it. We couldn’t buy one.”
The Tigers are competitive when they take care of the ball and shoot well he said. “We don’t have great quickness or size. We have been struggling at times.”
The Tigers’ offense centers around “dribble drive” and variations.
The Wildcats’ motion offense is led by Jackson, who averages 16 points, Norment who averages 19. Miller leads in rebounds with an average of 12. “We roll as our point guard rolls (Broadnax),” said Catrian. ‘We trust and believe in one another.”
The Wildcats are trying to earn a top-seed in the district tournament. Their last district game will be against Jackson South Side on Feb. 3, Senior Night.
A senior, McKinnie was pleased that his team didn’t give up on plays.
“We executed better. We had better looks at the basket and played smarter. We hustle. Even after our losses we still have our heads up. We have a lot of young freshmen but I think our future is bright and by tournament time, we will be ready. Even though all of our losses have been pretty close, we are not giving up on ourselves. We are going to keep fighting to the end, eventually the wins will come. It was the fun with the crowd getting into it. It felt like old Bolivar basketball again.
“I don’t think people know how good we really are. I know this season isn’t going like we want it to but I am trying to help the young kids and get Bolivar basketball get on top in the future.
“I know we are not used to losing games at Bolivar. At the beginning of the season, it was really taking a toll on me because we were losing games. We’ve got three state championship banners. The coach keeps telling us to have confidence and keep pushing forward and the wins will come. We are looking for the big picture.”
A cornerback and receiver on the Bolivar football team, McKinnie plays center and third base on the baseball team.
He was voted Mr. Bolivar Central High School.
His faith “has helped me a ton” he said.
“I have a strong Christian foundation. I go to church all the time. I read scripture to keep me motivated,” he said. Philippians 4:13 and 1 Timothy 4:16 are two of his favorite Bible verses. “I try to be an example on and off the court and in everything I do.”
His competitiveness was fueled by friends of his older brother Duncan “always picking on me. I got that toughness. My dad (Mike) has always pushed me. It just helped me down the road.”
Down the road, Rudesill expects his team to compete four quarters to upset a team in the district tournament.
“We are going to have to play 4 1/2 quarters to be close enough to strike and knock somebody off. We are showing that we are capable of doing that on any given night.”
About Graham Sweeney
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