By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
As the buzzer sounded and Luke Bailey’s half-court heave descended toward the goal, West Point head coach Randy Jones could only hold his breath and watch the play unfold before him.
But when Bailey’s shot just missed its target, giving the Warriors a 52-49 win on Tuesday night, the coach was then able to flash a wry smile.
“Almost,” he said of the shot. “That was really close.”
In the end, though, it was too much Wesley Smith, who scored 21 points, including the go-ahead layup for West Point late in the game.
“I told the guys in the fourth quarter, they’d have to get it done on the defensive end,” Jones said. “I knew it’d be tough, and I give Fairview all the credit for being there at the end.”
The Warriors (14-6) carried just a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter but stretched it out to seven with around four minutes left.
From there, Fairview’s Elijah Garrison got the Aggies back into the game, scoring his team’s next seven points to cut the Warriors’ lead to just one point with a little over two minutes left in the game.
After a West Point bucket on the other end, Aggie guard Andy Hendrix buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 48-48 in the waning minutes of the contest.
With under a minute left, however, it was Smith who once again rose to the occasion for the Warriors.
Following Josh Looney’s missed 3-pointer, Smith grabbed the weak-side board and muscled his shot into the basket to give his team a two-point advantage.
“Wesley’s going to bring it every game,” Jones said of his senior forward. “I expect it out of him and so does he.”
On the ensuing Fairview possession, Warriors’ guard Jordan McKenzie corraled a steal, was fouled and faced a crucial 1-and-1 from the free-throw line.
He calmly sank both to stake the Warriors to a four-point lead with just 15 seconds remaining.
The Aggies refused to go away, though, as Garrison found himself at the charity stripe after being fouled on his 3-point attempt. The junior made one of his three attempts to keep Fairview’s chances alive.
After a airballed foul shot from West Point, the Aggies were given one more opportunity to extend the game.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, Bailey’s shot didn’t find the bottom of the net, clinching a victory for the Warriors.
“It’s a good win during a tough stretch,” Jones added. “The kids are playing better and hopefully they’ll continue to gain confidence as we head on into the season.”
McKenzie and Kris Keller scored seven points for the Warriors in the win, while teammate Looney added four.
Tristan Dubberly, Nick Nuss and Ryder Jones all had four points apiece for West Point.
Leading the Aggies (12-6) was the senior Bailey, who ended up with 14 points on the night.
Garrison was next in line with 11, while Peter Kessler and Blake Parker each had nine points.
West Point will travel to Cullman on Friday to take on the Bearcats in a pivotal area matchup. Fairview will tackle an area game of their own on the road versus Locust Fork.
‰ West Point 53, Fairview 17: Madison Rusk in the paint. Rachel Persall on the perimeter. Repeat as needed.
That was certainly the recipe for the Lady Warriors on Tuesday night, as West Point improved its record to 8-9 overall with a lopsided win over the Aggies.
Rusk scored 21 for the Warriors, while her teammate, Persall, hit four 3-pointers to finish with 16 points.
The Warriors led at the quarter breaks 15-4, 24-9 and 38-13.
Mallory Walker added five points for West Point, while Kari Williams contributed four.
The Aggies were paced by Alli Harris’ seven points.
‰ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.