By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
HANCEVILLE — With all three of West Point's boys teams advancing to Championship Saturday, the Warriors' ninth-graders wanted to start the final day of the Cullman County Basketball Tournament on a good note.
They were able to do just that, as Tanner Rusk and Justin O'Neil led the way on offense and Kobe Smith spearheaded a strong defensive effort en route to a 42-20 victory over Fairview. The county title is West Point's second in a row at the freshmen level.
“I'm pretty proud,” Warrior coach Scott Brown said. “They've been great all season. This is what they've prepared and played for all season.”
Fresh off a 15-point display in a first-round win against Vinemont, West Point's Tanner Rusk picked up right where he left off, scoring seven points in the opening quarter to give the Warriors a 9-4 edge at the end of one.
The Aggies bounced back in the following frame, however, closing the deficit to just three by halftime.
Ethan Barnette took over with two quick baskets after the break, and it was all West Point from there. The Warriors outscored Fairview 21-6 the rest of the way to clinch the coveted county crown.
“They came out in the second half focused and ready to play,” Brown said. “I felt like when they left the locker room that they were going to.”
Rusk poured on a game-high 12 points, while O'Neil came through with nine, securing both West Point players a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
“You like guys that can step up and knock them down,” Brown said of the pair. “They started slow tonight, but their confidence didn't get down and they kept playing.”
Smith joined his teammates on the honorary squad. The freshman chipped in seven points but made most of his impact on defense, constantly smothering the Aggies, deflecting numerous passes and battling for rebounds.
“If you've got someone like Kobe who will set the tone, the other players won't want to stand and watch their teammate get after somebody,” Brown said. “It's going to be contagious.”
Barnette finished with six points, Jordan Skinner sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer, Brady Kent and Drew Jenkins scored two points apiece and Jaxson Garrison made a free throw.
“I had 14 kids this year and am as proud as can be of all of them,” Brown said.
Austin Fletcher capped off an All-Tournament performance with six points for Fairview. Austin Harris and Noah Walker contributed five points apiece, while Caleb Chambers had four.
Holly Pond's Michael Lambert was the final addition to the ninth-grade boys All-Tournament Team.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.