It was a barn burner Tuesday night as the Bradwell Institute boys took on visiting Liberty County High School in a preseason basketball scrimmage that went down to the wire.
When the smoke cleared, BI took a 55-52 victory in a heated matchup.
Trailing, 49-55, with 12.9 seconds left in regulation, Panther Aaron Scott hit a trey shot from the corner to bring Liberty within three points.
Liberty got the ball back with two seconds on the clock, and Scott launched another potential trey just before the buzzer. It hit the back rim, bounced straight up but fell to the right, allowing the Tigers to avoid overtime and earn the win.
“In a game like this, no strategy is necessary. You just evaluate the players,” Tigers head coach Pete Woodard said at practice Monday night. “In a game like this, the intensity is going to be there on both sides. The players themselves are going to dictate the strategy that needs to be used because both are going to give 100 percent and it’s going to come down to who wants it most.”
It was apparent both teams did.
Both sides swapped leads and stayed tied or within a point of each other. The biggest point spread was in the fourth period, when the BI squad led by five, but that was short-lived as well.
As Woodard expected, his sophomores lit up the scoreboard. And sophomore Miguel Pineda also lit up the BI crowd. He earned cheers for three trey shots en route to his 15 total points, which led the Tigers’ scoring. Sophomore Malcolm Dingle hit a trey shot on his way to 13 points for the night. Senior Jalen Watson followed suit, scoring 11 to round out the Tigers’ double-digit
“That is one thing the coaches and I were very pleased with,” Woodard said. “Those guys stepped up in the absence of our starting point guard, Javante Richey.
“It taught us that we do have depth, because we played extremely well as a team without our floor
Richey was away due to a personal issue and is expected to return in time for the regular season.
Woodard said he has seen a vast improvement in Dingle, Pineda and sophomore Jamorris Hill.
“It was just a scrimmage and we saw some stuff we liked,” he said. “But come crunch time, when you really want to win it, you want the people out there that you know you are going to have to go with when you start playing the games that count.
“We wanted to see exactly what they could give in a game like this. And I can say I truly saw what a difference a year makes. Down the stretch, those three players, as ninth-graders last year, were not able to hold and maintain a lead in a game that close. ... This year, they corrected mistakes and protected the ball and did what they had to do to get the victory.”
Liberty matched stride for stride and point for point.
Senior Sayvon Wilson led the Liberty squad with 14 points and Scott scored 11. Junior Michael Farrior chipped in nine points and sophomore Derrick Brooks had eight points.
But Panthers coach Willie Graham said his team fell short in certain areas.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we still have one piece of the puzzle to find,” he said. “We don’t have a true point guard right now, and that was evident once the game speeded up a little bit.
“I’m disappointed we missed a lot of easy shots, layups. And we started out shooting free throws poorly. Our half-court defense broke down a lot and we really had not had 10 varsity players to work hard against.”
Neither team shot well from the free-throw line. The Tigers were 11 of 24 and the Panthers sank 13 of 24.
“We work on free throws all the time and we have told them that free throws and defense win games,” Woodard said. “They did a beautiful job on defense, but free-throw shooting was horrible.
“We also allowed our opponent to get too many offensive rebounds from the free-throw line and that is a result of not being focused. If we fix those two areas, I think we’ll be all right.”
Graham placed newcomers Brooks and Scott into his starting five and also had sophomore Connor Bailey come off the bench in his first varsity game.
“The experience will be invaluable,” Graham said.
“I think they will eventually mesh well because they play a lot (of basketball together) in AAU,” he said of Brooks, Scott and Panther teammate Michael Farrior. “But what they haven’t played a lot is Georgia high school basketball, which is a lot more physical and a more team-oriented game. Connor Bailey played well last night for a tenth-grader and first time in a varsity-level game.”
Graham said he is starting to get a few players back from football who will add to the depth of the bench. Tay Tay Bacon already was on the hardwood court and had some minutes in Tuesday’s scrimmage.
“Raekwon McMillan will probably be coming back, and he gives us a little more size inside and a taller and wider body,” Graham added. “Coming back from football and being a linebacker, he is used to a lot of contact.”
Liberty will hit the court again Tuesday at Long County.
“It’s going to be a rip-and-run game,” Graham said. “(There will be) a big crowd, and that is another thing — some of these kids have not experienced that kind of crowd, pretty much a packed gym. At Long County, it will be another packed house in an even smaller gym, and you have to get used to it. We do have those games early in the season and it’s good for them. We also have to concentrate on getting our half-court defense and team defense together.”
Liberty County: Sayvon Wilson 14, Aaron Scott 11, Michael Farrior 9, Derrick Brooks 8, Tamontray Tucker 6, Tay Tay Bacon 2, Connor Bailey 2.
Bradwell: Miguel Pineda 15, Malcolm Dingle 13, Jalen Watson 11, Cameron Kight 6, Jamorris Hill 3, Aaron Sartin 3, Eli Jones 2, Darius Mowbray 2.