Ten minutes into Thursday's District 6-AA boys' basketball game at Brainerd, the Panthers had built a 17-point lead and appeared on their way to another whipping of the Howard Hustlin' Tigers like the one they administered at Howard on Dec. 6. But a different-looking set of Tigers didn't go away so easily this time.
Although the Tigers never led, they threw a brief first-half scare into the Panthers before succumbing 83-67.
With post player Orlando Moore providing five field goals in the first quarter and another at the 6:37 mark of the second, Brainerd took a 29-12 lead when Kentrell Evans drove for a layup 6:09 before halftime. But in that remaining time before the break, the Tigers battled back and gained a tie at 32 when Terrance Byrd's tip fell at the 57-second mark.
Brainerd first-year coach Levar Brown said the rally wasn't caused by anything his team didn't do, but what Howard did.
"They played like Hustlin' Tigers," Brown said. "Basketball is a game of runs and they made one. They made a good one."
Tyree Stubbs' three-point play with 38.3 seconds showing enabled the Panthers to take the lead to the locker room, but Howard's Desmond Strickland countered with a three-point play to start the second-half scoring that made it 35-35. The Tigers were within 45-42 with two and a half minutes to go in the third quarter before Brainerd closed the period on a 13-2 run and led by at least 11 points the rest of the way.
"We started running and playing defense," Howard coach Walter McGary said of his team's turnaround. "That's the only way we're going to survive this year. We don't have a big person like we've had in the past. Our pressing and quickness got us back in the ballgame, but our so-called big people disappeared in the second half. You're not going to beat anybody playing three against five."
Brown pinpointed what his team began doing better.
"We started throwing the ball inside and making our layups," Brown said. "Once we start going inside, our outside game opens up. We also cranked up the defensive intensity and started playing our type of game, which is to speed up the tempo."
Moore topped Brainerd (15-4, 7-1) with 23 points and Stubbs added 19. Marques Tipton totaled 13 points and Evans contributed 11.
Howard (4-10, 1-7) looked different than in its 57-point loss earlier to the Panthers because Cudjoe Young, who scored 20 points, and Lorenzo McCauley, who scored 14, did not play earlier in the season for "team reasons," McGary said. The Tigers' roster is made up of two seniors, three juniors and the rest freshmen.
"We'll get there," McGary said, "once my little ninth-graders gain some experience playing big-time high school basketball."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.