Bickerstaff leads Patriots to key region victory 

Sandy Creek learned a valuable lesson against Cartersville in early January. After falling 62-58 in a tough road loss, the Patriots found out that they needed to play four full quarters to beat their Region 5-AAAA counterparts.

On Friday, Sandy Creek got their chance for retribution against Cartersville in a return matchup on their home floor. This time the No 5 Patriots dispatched the No. 4 Hurricanes 78-52 behind a sensational night from junior forward T.J. Bickerstaff.

T.J. Bickerstaff rises over defenders as Sandy Creek defeats Cartersville 78-52 on Friday night. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

Bickerstaff had 25 points and propelled the Patriots with energy and effort. He got the crowd involved with a signature two-handed dunk in the second quarter and Sandy Creek fed off his performance to earn their 16th win on the season.

The Patriots are now 7-2 in region play and a half-game behind the Hurricanes for region supremacy.

“It is definitely good to see because we had to come back stronger,” Bickerstaff said. We didn’t do well that last game and we had to bring the intensity and energy in this one.”

Bickerstaff’s dunk was the spark that ignited the Patriots offense. The junior forward took a pass from teammate Xavier Brewster and went coast-to-coast for the breakaway slam.

“I just saw an opportunity and I wanted to dunk it to finish it off,” Bickerstaff said.

What followed next was a 18-5 run by Sandy Creek to jump in front of Cartersville. The offensive attack featured several clutch shots from Bickerstaff, who had eight points in the quarter, and a huge buzzer-beater 3-pointer from senior guard Kam Miller to close the first half.

The Patriots would hold a 38-27 lead going into halftime after trailing by four points to start the second quarter.

Cartersville would make things interesting in the second half behind senior guard T.J. Horton. The point guard made plays throughout the game to keep the Hurricanes within striking distance.

Horton consistently attacked the Patriots interior and displayed an elite range of shots to counteract Bickerstaff’s production. Horton finished the game with 21 points and along with fellow guard Jaylon Pugh, who had 14 points, headlined Cartersville’s offense.

However, Sandy Creek displayed too much firepower from the perimeter and always had an answer to any offensive set Cartersville tried to run. Brewer played big in the post and denied a couple of shots with impressive defensive positioning.

His presence inside helped the Patriots guards be more aggressive on the perimeter. Miller was the main beneficiary as he used his elite perimeter defense to hound the Hurricanes all night. He had a couple of nice steals that set up the Patriots on the fast break. One steal led to another highlight worthy play from Bickerstaff late in the fourth quarter.

Miller’s activity was the result of the overall game plan laid out by Sandy Creek head coach Jon-Michael Nickerson. In game preparation, Nickerson noticed that the Hurricanes like to have    different people bring the basketball up the floor.

Nickerson exploited the tendency by matching up Miller, his best on-ball defender, to guard in a mini full-court press. The strategy worked as the Patriots created several turnovers and got the Hurricanes out of a rhythm offensively.

“Kam and I talked about it before the game and he executed it what we envisioned on film flawlessly,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson was also proud of the effort and glad the team adjusted pull out the victory.

“We played good enough to win for three quarters up there and I thought we didn’t do enough in the fourth quarter to pull it out,” Nickerson said. “Today, the main message was to dominate the paint and we did that.”

Sandy Creek has now won five straight games. They will be back in action on Friday to face LaGrange High School. It will be another opportunity for them to get revenge and build momentum after they narrowly lost on January 12.

“It feels great and we are going to keep going until we get to the championship,” Bickerstaff said.


Lady Patriots cruise past Cartersville 60-27 on Friday Night

The Sandy Creek Lady Patriots are starting to hit all the right notes as they continue to develop as a team. The Patriots took care of Cartersville 60-27  Friday night in an impressive performance at home and moved to 13-8 on the season.

It was ball movement and defense that propelled Sandy Creek to victory. The basketball touched everyone’s hands on each possession and it opened scoring opportunities across the board.

The backcourt duo of freshman Jania Hodges and junior Nina Lum combined for 31 points and several assists. Lum was strong from distance as she hit four 3-pointers in the game.

Nina Lum scores 16 points to lead Sandy Creek over Cartersville 60-27 on Friday Night. (Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)

The duo got going early to help Sandy Creek jump out to a 12-4 run and secure an early lead. Hodges was aggressive in attacking the rim and had seven first-quarter points. She was also a force on the defensive end with timely steals within the half-court trap set up by the Patriots defense.

The scoring output was a great sign for Sandy Creek head coach Janie Hodges as she saw her game preparation in action.

“I have been challenging them mentally to break through the barriers that frustrate them,” Hodges said. “Tonight, everyone was touching the ball and having fun. When we do that, we can be a tough team to beat.”

In the second quarter, the Patriots continued the offensive attack and outscored the Lady Hurricanes 15-5 in the period. Defense was the key as they took Cartersville out of their game plan with solid execution. It also allowed the Patriots to enter halftime with a wide margin up 35-13.

“Defensively we are a sound team and we are quick among the guards,” Hodges said. “Hopefully, we continue to bring the same intensity. We can’t get complacent and let a team do what they want to do.”

After halftime, it was more of the same for Sandy Creek. Sophomore Daija Powell took over the heavy lifting with eight points after the intermission. It was a relatively quiet night for the forward, who finished with 14 points, but her presence helped alter any attempts that Cartersville had at the rim.

The victory was a big momentum boaster for the Patriots as they face LaGrange on Saturday in a matchup of region elites. Janie Hodges said the game is big for the team, but she is just hoping that the team can match the energy displayed on Friday night.

“We went to Lagrange and lost there without Daija (Powell),” Hodges said. “That was our first game without her and we were kind of shaken. Hopefully, we can redeem ourselves here. If we win the region or not, we are going to get them in the region tournament.”