After a 10-day break, the Sandy Creek Patriots returned to action against an elite East Coweta Indians team. Both squads entered on a hot streak, but it was the Indians that walked away with a 68-62 road victory.

The Indians improved to 10-1 overall and finished undefeated on their tour against Fayette County teams. East Coweta senior guard Fermandez Jones led the way with 17 points. Jones was electric off the dribble and made his living at the rim. He also set up teammates Brandon Stroud and Zac Hill on the perimeter and in transition.

Stroud and Hill both finished with 15 points. Stroud ignited the offense early with 5 first-quarter points and Hill finished it off late. He iced the game with a two-handed slam that propelled the Indians to victory.

“We got beat off the ball too much,” Patriots head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson said. “Our defensive transition was the No. 1 thing and our goal was to keep them out of transition. We didn’t do that and it was the key to the game. I thought we lost the game in transition and it affected us offensively.”

Sandy Creek fell to 6-2 on the season. The Patriots started strong with 15 of their 17 first-quarter points coming from beyond the 3-point line. Senior guard Julian Alexander was effective with three 3-pointers in the early going. As a result, the Patriots held a 17-15 lead after the first period.

However, things gradually got worse. The Indians went to a half-court pressure and made it difficult for the Patriots to score. There wasn’t a lot of communication and that bogged down the offensive flow.

TJ Bickerstaff shooting free throws at the line against East Coweta. (Staff Photo: Jaylon Thompson)

This allowed East Coweta to take advantage. The Indians became more aggressive on the glass and cashed in their second chance opportunities. Senior forward Demetrius Freeman was the big benefactor. Freeman scored 8 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. He was active around the rim and usually in position for easy layups.

At halftime, the Indians led by three points. The lead swelled to double-digits in the second half. It was more of the same balanced scoring with Jones continuing to orchestrate the attack. Midway through the third quarter, the Indians went on a 7-0 run and forced the Patriots to call a timeout.

In the huddle, Nickerson told his team to settle down and look for the right shot. Junior guard Keith Williams took heed to the message. He sparked the Patriots down the stretch with 14 of his 16 points in the second half.

Williams got into the lane and finished with layups at the rim. He also did work at the free-throw line with 4 free throws.

“I was trying to give my team some energy,” Williams said. “We didn’t have energy and I felt like I had to provide it.”

The spark woke up the Patriots main contributors. Senior captain TJ Bickerstaff got going with 8 points in the second half. Sophomore Jabari Smith also hit two crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Smith finished with a team-high 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. Williams had 16 points and Bickerstaff had 10 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.

The Patriots stormed back to get within five. They wouldn’t get closer as the Indians quickly pushed the deficit back to double-digits. Junior Christopher Youngblood hit a 3-pointer and Hill finished with a dunk to make it 66-56 with 30 seconds remaining.

Jones would later dribble out the clock as the Indians escaped with a win. After the game, Nickerson was disappointed with the loss. He said things will get corrected in practice before the next game.

“I told them that when it’s not going well that is when your true character gets revealed,” Nickerson said. “We got to stay together as a team (moving forward).”

The Patriots are back in action against Dacula High School in the Hawks Naismith Classic Showcase. The Indians return to face rival Newnan High School.


Lady Patriots outlast East Coweta

Sandy Creek continued its winning ways on Tuesday night. The Lady Patriots were all business as they neutralized the East Coweta Lady Indians 56-37 at home.

Senior guard Paris Thompson led the Patriots with a game-high 19 points. After a quiet first-half, Thompson erupted for 17 second-half points. She took over by constantly getting to the free-throw line and disrupting the Indians momentum.

“I was moving a lot more and trusting my teammates,” Thompson said. “I understand that sometimes the jump shots are not going to be there. I decided to start cutting and use my height to my advantage.”

As a result, the Patriots improved to 5-3 overall. They have now won four straight games after starting the season 1-3.

East Coweta fell to 1-11 on the season. The Indians hung around early behind freshman guard Letiya Reeves. She finished with 15 points and sparked a 10-0 run to get the Indians back into the game.

However, East Coweta didn’t have an answer down the stretch. The Patriots offense was too much as they moved the ball at will and set up easy scoring chances. The Patriots backcourt, Jania Hodges and Nina Lum, was active all night. Both guards played the passing lanes and dished out several assists to their teammates.

In the third quarter, Hodges hit Thompson with a smooth bounce pass for an easy layup. Minutes later, Thompson returned the favor with a behind-the-back pass. Hodges collected it and finished at the rim.

Jania Hodges lines up free throw against East Coweta. (Staff Photo: Jaylon Thompson)

The ball movement was a welcome surprise for Patriots head coach Janie Hodges. She has preached more activity and communication all season. She was happy to see her team be more aggressive from the start.

“On the offensive end, I think we connected a little bit more tonight,” Janie Hodges said. “They were able to play off each other and communicate with where everyone was going to be.”

The communication was key with junior forward Daija Powell in and out of the lineup. The Patriots had to rely on role players Arrielle Belinga and India Holmes to step up in the interior. Both answered the call. Holmes had several key stops and Belinga was a force with 10 points in the paint.

“We will take it,” Janie Hodges said. “The last couple of games, we have been dead (energy-wise). Hopefully, we are moving in the right direction and we will see what the new year brings.”

The Patriots are back in action against Newton County on Friday. The Indians have rival Newnan next on their schedule.