by Raynard Churchwell
As the regular season comes to an end, teams are looking to finish strong to gain momentum for the playoffs. With a dominant performance Saturday, the Sandy Creek Patriots did nothing short of that, capping off a remarkable feat with both squads finishing the regular season region slate unblemished.
In the early game, the Lady Patriots made history by going undefeated in region play for first time ever. It didn’t come easy as the Central Lions tested them early. Eventually, the Patriots were able to battle back and win the game 53-41.
The game was a tale of two halves. In the beginning, the Tigers came out playing fast and aggressive. They controlled the pace of the game and jumped out to 9-0 lead to start the game, as Central guard Nyah Houston hit two long 3-pointers to expand the lead midway through the first 1st quarter.
Sandy Creek went on a run of their own and closed the cap by scoring some easy lay-ups to close the frame trailing 12-8. In the second quarter, both teams seemed to pick up their energy and push the pace of the game. Sandy Creek Guard Nina Lum came up with some big plays as she scored 7 points on a tough lay-up, two free-throw shots, and a long 3-pointer to help Sandy Creek take the lead. The biggest highlight in the quarter came when Central’s Houston hit a crazy crossover step-back 3-pointer and drew a foul on the play, as her Lions finished the half with a five-point lead.
In the second half, Sandy Creek began to enforce their will. They started the half playing strong defense, forcing Central to stagnate offensively, limiting them to just two points in the quarter.
The Patriots also became more physical in the half, snagging many offensive rebounds for key second-chance points.
Sandy Creek’s Daija Powell and Paris Thompson began to take over the game by getting to the free-throw line whenever they wanted to. They would lead the game by eight points at the end of three quarters.
In the final frame, Sandy Creek continued to play strong defense, and Central struggled moving the ball around and getting off any shots.
Thompson stayed hot late in the game and controlled the offense as they pulled away, allowing Coach Janie Hodges to put in her reserve players with two minutes left.
“I felt like we took Central for granted in the first half,” Hodges, who shunned the celebration for her 100th career win, explained. “At this point, I feel like everybody’s playing their best basketball, but we know we can’t afford to take quarters off.”
The Lady Patriots finish the regular season on a 16-game win streak with an overall record of 21-4. As for the Tigers, they finish the regular season with a 16-7 record overall and an even 6-6 record in region play.
The boys game was nothing short of a beatdown as the Patriots won by a score of 92-50.
The game started as a defensive battle. Sandy Creek began the game using a trap defense, double teaming every player that possessed the ball, and Central played a physical game and forced the Patriots to miss easy shots. Eventually Sandy Creek began to spread the ball around and hit a few outside shots.
Sandy Creek’s Matt Williams came up with some key defensive plays as he garnered back-to-back steals to generate points, but Central wouldn’t go away as they would hit two 3-point shots of their own, narrowing Sandy Creek’s first quarter lead to only four points, 19-15.
In the second quarter, Sandy Creek started to take over. Williams began the quarter with a 4-point play getting fouled on a 3-pointer and making his free throw shot, and Jabari Smith threw down a strong dunk to get the crowd on their feet. Central wouldn’t go away just yet, as Canden McClure hit back-to-back 3-pointers to try to keep the Lions alive.
Sandy Creek appeared to be in a scoring zone towards the end of the quarter as they hit five 3-pointers down the stretch. Julian Alexander was red hot from downtown, hitting four of the fiveand hitting a long 2-point shot at the buzzer.
Things would begin to get ugly for the Lions in the second half. They were unable to match the intensity of Sandy Creek, and they paid for it. The Patriots forced the Lions to make mistakes and didn’t give them any good looks offensively. They also picked up the physicality of their play as Smith and Deshon Proctor began grabbing boards at a relentless pace. Central would have no answers as Sandy Creek stretched their lead to 25 points after three quarters.
The onslaught continued in the fourth quarter. Proctor opened with two monster dunks to get the crowd roaring, as Sandy Creek did whatever they wanted on both ends of the floor. They continued to shoot well from deep to go along with lockdown defense. As the lead reached 40 points, both teams substituted in their reserve players to finish the game.
Alexander led the way with 23 points. Smith posted 15 points and 7 rebounds, TJ Bickerstaff tallied 14 and 7, and Proctor added 13 and 8.
With the regular season in their rearview mirror, Sandy Creek Head Coach Jon-Michael Nickerson knows how he plans to carry the momentum of his team’s win streak into the playoffs.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Nickerson. “We have to keep the same practice habits and continue to play unselfish basketball.”
The Patriots finished the regular season on a 12-game win streak and finished undefeated in region play. The Tigersfell to a 7-18 overall record with a 2-10 mark in region play.
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