Basketball is back in Fayette County.
On Tuesday night, fans were treated to one of the top rivalries in the county as the Fayette County Tigers hit the road to face the Sandy Creek Patriots. Both squads came into the game highly-ranked in their respective classifications. According to Sandy’s Spiel, Fayette was ranked sixth in Class AAAAA and Sandy Creek was ranked third in Class AAAA.
The action didn’t disappoint as the Fayette escaped with a 74-66 victory over Sandy Creek. The Tigers were led by senior guard Josh Dupree as he poured in 31 points, 5 steals and 3 assists on the night.
His efforts were enough to thwart a late Patriots comeback led by senior T.J. Bickerstaff. The Drexel commit scored 25 points on 9-of-15 field goals. Bickerstaff also added 14 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks and 1 steal to his ledger.
However, it wasn’t enough as Fayette rode a 25-17 fourth-quarter run to secure their first win of the season. The Tigers improved to 1-1 as the Patriots fell to 0-1 in the early going.
“I thought we stepped up and I was very proud of the way we finished,” Tigers head coach Andre Flynn said. “Once we stretched it out there, we held them off. Sandy Creek is a great team. What we did was keep our composure and got the stops we wanted to get.”
Both teams came out swinging from the opening tip. Dupree ignited the Tigers offense with 13 of the team’s 19 points in the first quarter. He found his perimeter stroke early and hit several mid-range jump shots. At one point, he rattled off eight straight points to give Fayette a 11-6 advantage.
He is one of our captains and one of our leaders,” Flynn said. “For him to be able to do that, I was very pleased with it.”
Sandy Creek responded with their half-court offense. The Patriots worked to get the ball into the hands of Bickerstaff. He responded with 6 points in the quarter and dazzled the crowd with some nifty dribble moves. In the quarter, five players dropped in points as the Patriots matched the Tigers at 19 apiece.
The second quarter belonged to Patriots senior guard Julian Alexander. He got hot from distance as he hit three 3-pointers. Alexander chipped in 12 of his 24 total points in the period as Sandy Creek took the lead. He finished the game with those 24 points, 4 rebounds and 1 steal.
The Patriots didn’t hold the lead for long. Fayette battled back as they started to attack the rim on defense. They brought three guys to rebound and crowded the lane. This resulted in them securing possessions and turning it into points on the offensive end.
On one possession, Tigers’ junior guard JeKobe Coleman leaked out and was found in the corner for an open 3-pointer. He drained it as the Tigers took a 23-21 lead. The squads continued to trade possessions into halftime as the game was tied up at 32-32.
In the second half, there wasn’t separation until the fourth quarter. The turning point was a sequence of turnovers committed by Sandy Creek. The mistakes were costly as it allowed the Tigers use an 8-2 run and take the lead.
Fayette senior guard Ricky Knight got it started by knocking down a layup and a free throw. On the next play, the Tigers got the ball back after a steal. Coleman followed with a jumper from 15 feet. After a Bickerstaff dunk, Coleman connected again with a 3-pointer to give Fayette a 57-51 lead.
“The two turnovers to start the fourth quarter was the turning point,” Patriots head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. “One off a would be wide-open layup that we drew up in the huddle. The four turnovers, in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, was the game.”
The Tigers held on late despite Bickerstaff’s heroic efforts. The combination of Knight, Coleman and senior Greg Smith stopped a late rally.
“It was good because TJ (Bickerstaff) started to take control and he is so big,” Flynn said. “We called a timeout and told them to put a body on him to make it a little tougher. Greg (Smith) took the challenge and made sure to grab every rebound.”
Coleman finished with 14 points and 5 assists. Knight had 11 points and 3 assists, while Smith scored 6 points in the game.
On the Patriots side, junior transfer Keith Williams had 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in his debut. Senior RJ Howard had 6 points and junior Matt Williams chipped in with 6 assists.
Sandy Creek returns to action with a road game against Whitewater on Friday night. Nickerson hopes to clean up some mistakes and be more efficient as a unit.
“We have to limit turnovers by stop being so timid and in un-athletic positions on our catches,” Nickerson said. “We have to see the floor much better and make stronger passes.”
Fayette heads back home with momentum to face Newnan on Saturday. Flynn is proud of the effort and hopes his team gets better against a tough Class AAAAAAA school.
“We play 7A schools to see how tough we are going to be,” Flynn said. “We are going to keep building on it as we have a long way to go. I told the guys that it is a process and we not trying to be great right now. We want to keep playing better each game.”
Lady Tigers outlast Sandy Creek 45-38
Off the heels of state playoff appearances, the Sandy Creek Lady Patriots and Fayette County Lady Tigers battled to open the 2018 season.
In a hard-fought affair, it was the Tigers that reigned supreme as they pulled out a big 45-38 road victory over the Patriots. Senior guard Sydney Sims led the way with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. Teammate Ghylissa Knowles added 17 points as the Tigers improved to 2-0 overall.
The Patriots fell to 0-1 on the season. Junior forward Daija Powell had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 1 block. However, her performance wasn’t enough as Fayette continued to roll in the early portion of the campaign.
“It’s our crosstown rival and it’s always good to win one on the road in the county,” Tigers head coach John Strickland said.
The Tigers jumped out to a commanding 22-10 lead in the first half. After finding their way in the first period, Knowles sparked the offensive attack with 12 second quarter points. She hit back-to-back threes during a 16-2 run. Sims added 4 points and Camille Carpenter added a bucket in the stretch.
“She (Knowles) hit those threes and she got into a little foul trouble dealing with the size of their bigs. We picked up some a lot of cheap fouls, but she played hard.”
Defensively, Fayette shut down Sandy Creek’s high-powered offense. The Patriots couldn’t get out in space and were rebuffed by Strickland’s signature zone defense. Sandy Creek’s trio of Nina Lum, Jania Hodges, and Paris Thompson were limited to a combined 7 points in the first half.
As a result, nothing seemed to work for the Patriots. They missed free throws and weren’t communicating as a unit. At one point, head coach Janie Hodges was pleading with her team to stop overthinking and stay focused.
“We played lethargic and we weren’t ready to play,” Janie Hodges said. “They came out flat and they weren’t mentally honed into the game. “This is what happens when you don’t play four quarters of basketball.”
At halftime, Fayette entered with a sizable lead. In the second half, the Tigers continued to fill up the stat sheets. Sims displayed her athleticism with several driving layups to the basket. She played the passing lanes and created easy scoring opportunities at the rim for teammates.
“She is my senior leader and I told her that she had to go tonight and she stepped it up,” Strickland said.
Sandy Creek made it close in the third quarter. Jania Hodges hit a contested 3-pointer to cut the deficit to nine points. However, Strickland made a switch to a four-guard set and forced Powell to defend on the perimeter.
With Powell outside, the Tigers peppered the middle with passes and contact finishes. They wound up going to the line and hitting free throws to maintain the lead. In the fourth quarter, Sims iced the game at the line as the Tigers left with a victory.
“You can’t nothing away from Fayette,” Janie Hodges said. “They outworked us on the offensive and defensive end. We took a half off tonight.”
In a losing effort, Thompson finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds. Lum had 5 points, including a 3-pointer and Janie Hodges finished with 9 points.
Both teams are back in action this weekend. Sandy Creek hits the road to face Whitewater and Fayette heads home to face Newnan on Saturday.
To see more photos from the games, click here.