Wildcats get win in Region 7-AA tournament
By Bill Sorrell
One play that was evident of the emotional showdown that was the Region 7-AA tournament opener between Fayette-Ware and Crockett County in Somerville on Saturday came with 2:19 left in the second quarter.
After a steal and basket by the Wildcats’ Mikkel Norment gave them a 16-12 lead with 2:56 left, Crockett point guard Rob Rowe scored 30 seconds later to cut the lead to 16-14. Then Norment and Rowe made the play that helped to define what this game meant to both teams.
With both going for the rebound off a missed three-point shot, the ball got tipped. They didn’t crash the boards, but the crowd.
“I saw it and I dove into the crowd and number 3 (Norment) went with me,” said Rowe. “I try to do that all the time. I try to give my best. I always try to put 100 percent into everything.”
Both uninjured, Norment patted Rowe on the head.
“He said, ‘Good hustle boy’ and I said, ‘Good hustle’ back. Then we shook hands,” said Rowe.
The Wildcats (22-7) had the upper hand in a 68-44 victory that sent them to the region semifinals against Obion County (23-7) on Tuesday at Chester County. The loss ends Crockett County’s season with a 14-18 record.
Fayette-Ware’s game with Crockett featured a halftime-buzzer trey, a choking man-to-man defense, a string of technical fouls, a seven-point game with seven minutes to play, electrifying dunks and a mid-court hug between Crockett coach Jerrod Shelton and Fayette-Ware coach Marcus Stokes.
The Wildcats entered the game as District 14-AA tournament champions for the first time since 2007 after finishing second in the regular season. They knocked off Jackson South Side, the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Class AA in the Associated Press poll, in the tournament championship. It ended the Hawks’ 23-game winning streak. South Side (24-1) was the only AA team in Tennessee that was unbeaten.
“It was very important beating South Side because they beat us twice in the regular season,” said Norment. “It was a good feeling but we know that we have more to do.”
The do-list started with the Cavaliers, which was the No. 4 seed in District 13-AA.
Wildcat junior D.J. Jackson scored 24 points, including two dunks, to lead scorers. Norment scored 13 and Tyran Gilcrease 12. Carlos Sharp led Crockett scorers with 7.
It was the Wildcats’ man-to-man third quarter defense that forced Crockett into turnovers and helped them regain a first quarter lead that Crockett had overtaken in the second quarter.
“The difference was they picked up the pressure at the start of the second half. We were not executing our press offense. They were able to force turnovers,” said Shelton.
Stokes said, “That made a whole lot of difference. We wanted to bring out the run- and- jump in the second quarter but we brought it out third quarter.”
Crockett had the momentum going into halftime. Manny Jordan hit a trey at the buzzer to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the game, 19-16. That capped an 18-7 second quarter run that erased a 9-1 Fayette-Ware lead.
It was Jordan’s second trey of the second quarter and accounted for his six points in the game. His three-pointer with 4:00 left sliced the Fayette-Ware lead to 14-12.
“It gave us a lot of momentum going into the locker room and going into the second half,” said Rowe. “It ignited us a little bit and then they came out and pressured us in the second half. We couldn’t handle it (man-to-man press) well.”
Stunned, Fayette-Ware entered halftime. The Wildcats had raced to their largest lead of the first half, eight points, behind Jackson, who scored seven of their first nine. Corderrius Anderson scored the first points of the game for the Wildcats. Crockett did not score a field goal until Carlos Sharp’s with 2:30 left in the first quarter.
Four points by Crockett’s Nolan Holyfield and two by Josh Welch helped the Cavaliers tie the game at 16 with 1:46 left in the second.
“We came out lackadaisical. We got a little complacent and they are a well-coached team,” said Stokes. “We knew they were going to run sets. I didn’t know they were going to make that many passes. We weren’t boxing out. They crashed the boards. I was surprised. They were not that big. They got a lot of offensive rebounds. We made our adjustments. We ran our sets in the second half.”
In the first half, Crockett’s goal was to set the tempo.
“We slowed things down. We controlled the tempo. That was our goal going into the game,” said Rowe.
Shelton said, “We were disciplined offensively. They missed shots and we were able to rebound. Our objective was to make it more of a half-court game. They are more athletic, faster, bigger, stronger and older. We did not want a track meet.”
Norment said that the Cavaliers’ style “woke us up. They made a buzzer-beater at the half and our coach came to the locker room and told us to play Fayette-Ware basketball.”
The third quarter was about that.
“We locked in together as a team and made a focus that we were going to finish it. We knew they couldn’t handle the pressure. We got leadership from our captains. They told us to play hard, it is four quarters. We knew that it was an elimination game,” said Jackson.
Two free throws by Jackson gave the Wildcats a lead they would never lose, 20-19, with 7:18 left. The man-to-man press forced Crockett into three straight turnovers that led to five straight points as Jackson added a basket and a free throw and Gilcrease a basket for a 25-19 lead. The pressure also kept Crockett from inbounding the ball, forcing a time out.
A trey by Gilcrease and a steal by Norment and his free throw got Fayette-Ware a 31-21 lead with 4:35 left in the third.
With 4:41 left, the Cavaliers’ Jordan Branch and Wildcats’ Madarious McNeal were charged with technical fouls. Both teams confronted each other at mid-court with a war of words that made Stokes and Shelton rush the floor, separating their players.
Norment made both technical free throws for a 43-30 lead. Rowe hit one of two tech free throws for the Cavs.
The Wildcats were charged with another technical 28 seconds after Rowe’s free throw. Trying to dunk, Jackson held onto the rim.
Rowe made both technical shots, reducing the deficit to 43-35.
“Everybody got at it at once,” said Rowe. “Techs were flying everywhere. I went to the free throw line and I tried to keep calm. I went three-for-four and emotions just got the best of everybody. I was included in it too. I can’t act like I am above everything.”
Said Shelton, “I am not sure what happened. Jordan has not been in trouble in his whole life. We have got really good kids. They are high-character kids. We have no trouble with them in the classroom. No trouble outside.”
Stokes called time. “We told the guys to settle down. That is one of their (opponents) tactics. A lot of teams try to get us out of our character. We had to call a time out and regroup.”
Norment said, “Even though one of my teammates got a tech, I told them to keep your head because we got this one.”
After the technical fouls, Stokes and Shelton talked with each other.
“He is a good friend of mine. We do a lot of workshops together. We shook hands. We said that is nothing personal. We told each other there are no hard feelings and that we love each other,” said Stokes, in his fourth season as Fayette-Ware coach.
Jackson would make up for the missed dunk. His dunk with 3:37 left gave the Wildcats a 46-36 lead. His second dunk made it 53-38.
Jackson said that he thought he was off the rim in time after his first missed dunk.
“When I had caught it, I thought I had got off in time but when they called the tech, I knew that I had not. I knew that I had to calm down because I didn’t want to get another one.”
He called his dunks “great. It gave our team a lift to finish it up and to put us over the hump.”
Norment gave the Wildcats a 57-38 lead with 1:41 left. Juantavious Siddell’s trey cut it to 57-41. Femarkeus Anderson had two 3-pointers in the last minute and Stefon McNeal also had a trey. Anderson’s gave the Wildcats their largest lead, 68-43 with 27.5 left.
“In the second half, they controlled the tempo. They made us speed up. We made mistakes and they capitalized on it. I have got to give them credit for that,” said Rowe.
The Wildcats sank 18 of 23 free throws, 16 field goals, six 3-pointers. Corderrious Anderson added 5, Femarkeus Anderson 6, Kederrion Rossen 3, Steafon McNeal 3, Madarious McNeal 2.
Crockett sank 12 of 20 free throws, nine field goals, and three 3-pointers. Jordan and Welch finished with 6 points each, Rowe 5, Holyfield 5, Siddell 4, Tevion Young 2, Damian Nance 1. Young and Rowe are the only seniors. The Cavs used a motion offense. Their goal was to play mistake-free basketball and keep the Wildcats off the glass.
“Any time the season ends, it’s frustrating because you want to continue,” said Shelton, who in his 17th year as a head coach. “I am proud of the effort the kids showed tonight as they have all year long. All of them played pretty well. We are going to get back into the weight room and prepare for next year. I love them. This year has been a good year. They have been battling every day. I am nothing but proud of them.”
The season ended with no regrets for Rowe, who said that his strengths are going after “everything. I am a pretty good three-point shooter. I didn’t make any today. I hustle. I crash the offensive boards and people like to box me out because I am 5-7. I get sneaky, little offensive rebounds. That is what I bring to the table, my hustle and effort.”
“We never give up. It doesn’t matter if we are down by 30 points, we are not going to hang our heads because anything can happen. Both teams fought hard and they ended up playing better than us.
“As a senior, it is sad but I don’t have any regrets. I know that I gave my all for the Cavaliers. That is all you can ask for, to have no regrets when you are doing something.”
Norment, whose goal is a state championship ring, credited the victory to “teamwork, playing hard, and play your game like it’s your last.”
After the game, Stokes was “happy. I’ll try to get some sleep tonight but I doubt I will. I’ll be up watching film.”
About Graham Sweeney
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