The Upson-Lee Runnin’ Knights (2-1), (2-0) were averaging nearly 73 points per game heading into their Region 4 contest at Woodland on Friday night. So far this season, the Knights have played an up tempo style of basketball, and have had little trouble getting the ball in the hoop. However, on Friday night, Upson-Lee had to find a little different way to get a victory.
The Wolfpack from Woodland High School were a much bigger team, which isn’t anything new to the Runnin’ Knights. But the Pack forced Upson-Lee into a tough defensive half court game, which left both teams tied 16-16 at halftime. Fortunately for the Knights, they were able to push the tempo in the fourth quarter with tough aggressive defense. The Knights forced the Pack into turnovers, which led to Upson-Lee transition baskets. The Knights were able to pull away from the Pack in the fourth quarter, and escape Woodland with a 47-35 victory.
“It wasn’t the type of game that we like to play,” said Knights head coach Darrell Lockhart. “They were able to control the pace of the game and turn it into a tough physical contest. I thought we played really well defensively tonight, and we rebounded the ball well. We still struggled from the free throw line, and in the first half of the game it felt like there was a lid on the basket. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win, and we will take a region win on the road anytime. I really felt like our three freshmen that started tonight grew up. They single-handedly sealed the game for us in the fourth quarter.”
The three freshmen which Lockhart was referring to were O’Qualon Harris, David Marshall, and Kenderius Pennyman. The trio combined to score 35 of the Knights’ 47 points in the contest. This was the first time this season that the Knights started all three freshmen in the same game.
The Knights struggled from the field offensively to start the game. Woodland, which also struggled from the field shooting, had their best moments of the game in the first three minutes of the first quarter. With 4:29 left in the first quarter of play, the Wolfpack led the Knights 10-2. After a timeout from Upson-Lee, the Knights came out and took control of the game defensively.
The Knights turned up their defensive intensity with tough man to man defense and began finding the basket. Harris knocked down two big three pointers in the quarter, while UL freshman David Marshall was able to score some buckets down low. At the end of the first quarter, Upson-Lee led Woodland 12-10.
In the second quarter, the Knights turned to a 2-3 zone defensively. Upson-Lee sagged back in the zone, forcing the Pack to take long contested shots from the perimeter, rather than getting the ball in the post to their big men, which is how the Pack scored most of their points in the game.
While the Knights forced Woodland into bad shots defensively, Upson-Lee went cold from the floor shooting the basketball. The Pack outscored the Knights 6-4 in the quarter, leaving the game tied 16-16 at halftime.
After an ugly half of basketball, the Knights came out in the third quarter trying to push the pace of the game with a four guard line up. Pennyman and Toby Fuentes began to run the Knights fast break offense in transition, finding Travis Pittman for fast break points. Pittman scored six of his eight points in the third quarter, including shooting 4 of 6 from the free throw line. Unfortunately for the Knights, the rest of the team shot a dismal 1 for 11 from the line. At the end of the third quarter, the Knights led the Wolfpack 31-26.
In the fourth quarter, the freshmen trio of Harris, Pennyman, and Marshall took the game over for the Knights. Harris, who finished with a career high 20 points, knocked down two more three-pointers in the quarter. Pennyman was able to slash his way into the lane, scoring and dishing off some nice passes. Pennyman only finished with four points, but the freshman did account for six assists.
Marshall, the Knights’ big man finished the contest with 11 points and seven rebounds, with six of his points coming in the fourth quarter. The performance from the freshmen trio in the fourth quarter led the Knights to the 47-35 victory.
Harris paced the Knights with 20 points, shooting 4 of 5 from behind the three-point line. Marshall finished the game with a career high 11 points and a career high seven rebounds. Pittman added eight points and nine rebounds. Pennyman scored four points and dished out six assists, Fuentes scored two points and also had four steals, while Ja’Qualon Willis chipped in with two points off the Knights bench in the victory.
The Knights (2-1) (2-0), will travel up the road to take on the Wildcats from Locust Grove tonight (0-2) in Locust Grove. Tip off is slated for 7:30 p.m.