By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
After three clunkers to open Hanceville’s 30th annual Thanksgiving tournament Tuesday at the Tom Drake Coliseum, the host Bulldogs finally gave their home-crowd something to cheer about in the final first-round game.
Chris Smith nailed a pair of go-ahead free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining in overtime, and Curry’s Wesley Keys missed both of his attempts just seven seconds later, allowing the Bulldogs to escape with a knee-knocking 72-70 victory.
Hanceville won the game but came up extremely short in the battle of the boards, which allowed the Yellow Jackets to claw back after trailing by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. The Dawg defense forced its fair share of misses but struggled all night to come down with the rebounds, giving Curry more second-, third- and fourth-chance opportunities than it could count.
The teams traded the lead 10 times from the 3:15 mark in the fourth quarter to the end of the overtime period. Coach Daniel Wakefield was just glad his Hanceville squad found a way to be on top when the final buzzer sounded.
“We had two games to start the season that were not close,” he said, referring to 61-38 and 76-49 wins over Falkville and Hayden in the past week. “To get better, you’ve got to play in games like this where it’s close.”
That was as far as Wakefield’s elation went, however. Once the coach turned to the Bulldogs’ boorish rebounding effort, he wasn’t nearly as much of a happy camper.
“To me, when you can’t rebound, that’s probably the most frustrating thing as a coach to see a team take shot after shot after shot and keep getting putbacks on you,” Wakefield said. “You shouldn’t have a bad night boxing somebody out. Anybody can do that.”
With three big football players — Sheldon Lewis, Tyler Tankersley and Austin Baker — at his disposal in the paint, the coach felt his team should’ve done a far better job of being physical against the Yellow Jackets.
“I don’t mean they’re the only three, but when you’ve got three guys like that, you expect them to clear the lane and control the boards for you,” Wakefield said. “In general, I guess we’ve got to go back and practice a bunch of box-out drills. You can do box-out drills all you want, but until they do it in a game, it doesn’t matter.”
Sophomore stud Brontae Harris was silky smooth with a game-high 27 points, while Smith improved his total to 15 with the go-ahead free throws. Keith Twitty was deadly from behind the arc with 12 points on four 3-pointers, and Reese went on a first-quarter tear for eight points.
Spencer Fikes led Curry with 20 points. Key and Alex Odom both had 15.
The thrilling outcome kept Hanceville’s hopes of winning its Thanksgiving tournament for a fourth straight year fully intact. Next up for the Bulldogs is Mortimer Jordan, which advanced by beating Good Hope earlier in the day. That semifinal contest will take place Wednesday at 7:15 p.m.
“I don’t know if Mortimer Jordan is better than Curry or not, but I know that Mortimer Jordan is really good,” Wakefield said. “We’re going to have to play a whole lot better than that or we’ll be going to the loser’s bracket tomorrow night.”
% Cold Springs 73, Hayden 36: The Eagles wasted little time putting the tourney’s first ballgame away, jumping out to a 14-point first-quarter lead thanks to Layne Rice’s four 3-pointers in the frame.
Cold Springs’ offense was relentless, netting 14 3-pointers in the blowout victory.
Rice was the Eagles’ leading scorer with 22 points, while Chayse Elliott and Triston Chambers each put up 14.
Josh Freeman made three treys to pitch in nine points, and Mason Harris added eight.
Cold Springs moves on in the winners’ bracket to face Corner. The game is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m.
% Mortimer Jordan 56, Good Hope 23: The Blue Devils bullied the Raiders early and often, taking a 17-3 lead after eight minutes and never letting up in opening-round action.
Good Hope often caved in to Mortimer Jordan’s pesky full-court press, which resulted in tons of turnovers and easy layups for the eventual victors.
The Raiders opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers from Eli Marty and Andrew Cofer. Their efforts were too little too late, however, with the Blue Devils already up by 30 points.
Seth Barnett and Benjamin Hardiman paced Mortimer Jordan with 10 points apiece.
Tyler Stringer had Good Hope’s high mark with six points, while Cofer and Mason Johnson were close behind with five each. Marty and Zack Sloan pitched in three points apiece, and Johnathan Grigsby tossed in one before fouling out in the second quarter.
The Raiders will play Hayden in the consolation bracket Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.
% Corner 74, St. Bernard 26: The Saints were no match for the Yellow Jackets as they fell behind 23-5 in the first quarter and never recovered.
St. Bernard was led by Jadavian Roland, who scored all but two of the Saints’ points.
The only other basket was collected by Jacob Grey on a jumper from the free-throw line at the end of the third quarter.
The Saints will face Curry in the consolation bracket at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesay.
% The Times’ sports writer Jake Winfrey contributed to this report.