There was a packed house in Fayetteville Friday night for the renewal of the Fayette County-Sandy Creek basketball rivalry, and every fan got their money’s worth. Sandy Creek won the boys game in a 78-73 overtime thriller, and the Fayette County girls rallied to 53-47.
In a long rivalry, the boys showdown will go down as one of the best ever editions. The gym at FCHS was packed, and the crowd was loud.
“I’ve never been in an environment like this before in my life,” said Sandy Creek coach Anthony McKissic.
The highly-touted Patriots got all the fight they could handle from a feisty Fayette squad, but they came through in the clutch.
“We’ve played a lot of national powerhouse teams. I think that’s what prepared us for games like this,” said McKissic. “We’ve been punched before, so we know how to punch back. We know how to wipe ourselves off and come back and fight.”
Sandy Creek knew they had to respect what their opponent could throw at them.
“We knew what Fayette County was going to give us,” said McKissic. “It’s a rivalry, and it’s for bragging rights. They’re a great team, and they’ve got a great coach.”
Fayette jumped in front first on a 3-pointer from Jaylon Cheffin before the fireworks started. Keith Heard’s block set up Evan Jester for a dunk for the Patriots’ first points, but the Tigers answered back on a Noah Gurley jam.
Fayette heated up from behind the arc on bombs from Austin Nesmith and Eric Williams, but the Patriots came right back on a Christian Turner layup and an Elias Harden slam. Javon Jackson hit from long range, and Harden scored four straight to put Sandy Creek ahead 19-17 after the first quarter.
The Tigers grabbed the lead back early in a second quarter filled with lead changes on a Zachary Turner three, and pushed ahead by four when Phillip Young dished to Williams slicing to the basket for two.
A Jester jumper and a Heard hook shot knotted the game back up at 27-27, before Zachary Turner hit another 3-pointer for the Tigers. Sandy Creek responded with threes from AJ Freeman and Harden to pull back ahead. Harden sank another three, but big man Justin Wade muscled for a pair of buckets to keep the Tigers within 39-36 at halftime.
Sandy Creek took control in the third quarter, growing their lead to as much as 10 points on a combination of Christian Turner drives to the hoop and strong work around the hoop by Heard, including his slick hook shoot.
“We’ve been working on that hook since I met him,” said McKissic. “I told him, if you get that hook working, no one can stop you. He’s been working real hard.”
Fayette trailed 59-51 going into the fourth quarter, but they were unswayed. Nesmith opened up the frame with a 3-pointer, and Gurley continued his magnificent game with a jumper and a baseline dunk. William Washington hit a three for the Tigers to slice the deficit to 69-63 with under three minutes to play. Gurley then scored consecutive baskets to make it 69-67 with a minute to play. A missed Patriot free throw opened the door, and Nesmith stepped right in with a floater to send the game to overtime at 69-69.
Sandy Creek quickly shook off the slump, especially Harden, who made up for the late free throw miss to score the first five points of overtime.
Fayette got as close as they would get in overtime at 74-72 on a Cheffin 3-pointer, but the Patriots would pull away. Javon Jackson’s layup and an AJ Freeman pull-up jumper were all they needed to seal up the 78-73 victory.
Elias Harden led all scorers with 29 points, and added 10 rebounds and 4 steals. Christian Turner posted 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. Evan Jester added 10 points, and Keith Heard II notched 10 rebounds.
Noah Gurley paced the Tigers with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Austin Nesmith tallied 14 points and 7 assists. Jaylon Cheffin added 10 points, and Phillip Young posted 8 rebounds.
The girls game was a thriller of its own, the Lady Tigers shaking off a cold first half to rally and win late, 53-47.
“We fought hard,” said Fayette County coach John Strickland, whose team shook off a double-digit deficit in the second half to win. “The ball bounced Sandy Creek’s way early, and it bounced our way late. It was a tale of two halves.”
Sandy Creek won’t want to hear talk about moral victories, but the rest of the state has been put on notice that the Lady Patriots are on the rise.
“Sandy Creek has improved a lot. They’re a totally different team,” praised Strickland. “Coach (Shon Dodson) has got them going over there. They’re playing hard, and they play with poise.”
Fayette grabbed the game’s first lead, but would not see one again for a long while. Sandy Creek pulled in front 3-2 on a Morghan Currie bucket and would lead until less than three minutes remained in the game.
Jazlyne Hanson’s jumper tied her Tigers at 6-6 before they went cold. Amara Owoh kicked out to Nina Lum for a 3-pointer, and Dominique Fuller added her own bomb as the Patriots led 12-7 after one quarter.
Kasey Toles stepped up to start the second, sinking a 3-pointer, then notching a steal and coast-to-coast layup to grow the lead to 10 points.
Rikkelle Miller kept the Tigers competitive with a pair of threes, but Sandy Creek piled on before the half with buckets from Ky’anah Snypes and Currie to lead 25-15 at halftime.
Adayah Glymph keyed the Tigers out of the break, taking a charge on the defensive end, then sinking a jumper on offense. Lum hit a three for the Patriots, but Fayette kept chipping away.
Jessica Watkins, in particular, had a number of key hustle plays in the comeback.
“She had 7 points, but it was the 50-50 balls, the hustle plays that you don’t see in the scorebook but they show up big in games like this,” Strickland said of Watkins’ biggest moments. “She was able to keep the ball alive a couple plays. She played with a lot of heart.”
Watkins dished to Maegan Barkley for a circus layup to cut the deficit to 30-27 at the end of the third quarter.
Fuller sank a 3-pointer early in the fourth, but the Tigers kept charging. Glymph fed Watkins for a three-point play as the lead was cut to five, and Darryl Langford kept it up with a bomb.
Currie notched a steal and a hoop for the Patriots, but the momentum was swinging in Fayette’s favor. Rikkelle Miller sank a trey to pull within two at the three-minute mark, and Langford dropped another bomb to give Fayette the lead back at 43-42. Langford then built onto the lead with a steal and layup.
The Tigers added on with a tremendous hustle play by freshman Sidney Sims, who missed a free throw then grabbed her own rebound and put it back in for two to push her team ahead 47-42.
Kasey Toles hit from long range for Sandy Creek, but they could not close the gap any further at the end.
Darryl Langford led Fayette in scoring with 15 points, followed by Rikkelle Miller with 9 and Maegan Barkley with 8. Jessica Watkins posted 7 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Toles led the Patriots with 14 points, along with 3 rebounds and 3 steals. Morghan Currie posted 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists. Nina Lum added 10 points and 7 rebounds.
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