The future seems very bright for the Coach Darrell Lockhart and his Upson-Lee Runnin’ Knights. Three of his top four scorers on this season’s team are ninth graders. Yes, that is correct, the Knights’ varsity basketball team starts three freshmen on most nights.
However, while the Knights look forward to a bright future, they are determined to turn some heads this season. They currently have the entire region talking about what they have been calling “the team with the three freshmen”, and it was one of those freshmen, Kenderious “KD” Pennyman, who had a weekend that will not soon be forgotten. Scoring 43 points over two games is a pretty good weekend for some of the top seniors in the state, but for a freshman to pull off such a feat is nearly unheard of. The last freshman to put up numbers like that around this area was Kentavious Caldwell from Greenville, who scored 35 points in one game against the Knights as a freshman. Caldwell is currently the leading scorer for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Pennyman’s 43 points over the weekend led the Knights to a couple of much needed victories. The UL freshman trio of Pennyman, O’Qualon Harris, and David Marshall scored 84 of the Knights’ 155 points over the weekend, which is just over 54 percent of the team’s total points.
“He is a special player,” said Lockhart. “All three of those freshman are special. He has been playing well offensively the last couple of games, and we have been feeding him the ball. It’s been fun to watch. Hopefully he and the rest of the team can keep things going this week. This coming week is the most important week on our schedule.”
On Friday night Upson-Lee traveled to Griffin to play an important game against region foe Spalding. The Jaguars and the Knights entered the game with identical records. The Jags jumped on the Knights early, but after an extra quarter of play, Upson-Lee was able to fight back and earn a 79-76 overtime victory.
Upson-Lee struggled defensively during the game with the Jags. The Knights have been pretty consistent on defense this season, but during the first half of their game against the Jags, Upson-Lee seemed a step slow. Spalding used a Princeton style of offense, beating the Knights on back-picks and back door cuts.
The Knights’ Travis Pittman kept UL from getting run out of the gym. Upson-Lee only scored 10 points in the second quarter, but the senior Pittman scored eight of those points. The Knights trailed the Jags 36-27 at halftime.
“We were not in the game mentally during the first half,” said Lockhart. “I told the guys they know they were not playing up to their abilities. I was extremely disappointed in their effort during the first half, and I let them know it. The guys really responded well and played much better in the second half.”
Trailing by nine points at halftime, Upson-Lee turned up their defensive intensity, which led to more points offensively for the Knights. Upson-Lee suffocated the Spalding offense with a 1-2-2 half court press. UL’s Toby Fuentes finished with a season high 12 points, many of those points coming on fast breaks after his seven steals in the game. Fuentes also dished out nine assists in the victory.
The Knights went on a 9-0 run to start the second half, and after the third quarter Upson-Lee only trailed 47-44.
In the fourth quarter, the Pennyman took over. The freshman guard drilled (2) thre- pointers, with the latter giving the Knights their first lead (57-55) since they led 2-0 to start the game. After gaining the lead for the first time in nearly 30 minutes of game time, the Knights fell victim to the free throw bug. UL struggled from the line in the fourth quarter, as the Jags thrived from the charity stripe. Upson-Lee made 26 of 44 free throws attempted, while Spalding made 21 of 26 free throws attempted. The Knights’ inability to make free throws late is what kept them from winning the game in regulation.
The two teams were knotted up 62-62 as the final buzzer sounded. In the overtime period it was another freshman who came through for the Knights. O’Qualon Harris finished the game with 17 points, but scored eight points in the four-minute overtime period. The Knights outscored the Jags 17-14 in overtime, earning the 79-76 victory.
Pennyman paced the Knights with 19 points. Harris added 17 points for the Knights, Travis Pittman scored 15 points, Toby Fuentes added 12 points, Jalen Searcy and David Marshall netted seven points, while Corey Moss chipped in with two points.
On Saturday night, Upson-Lee traveled to Mary Persons to take on the Bulldogs in a non-region contest. The Bulldogs have had their struggles this season to say the least, holding a record of 1-13. With that said, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 15-5 lead on the Knights. Mary Persons played like a perennial playoff contender rather than a team with one win. The Knights went on an 8-2 run to close out the quarter, but still trailed the lowly Bulldogs 17-15.
In the second quarter Upson-Lee woke up from their first quarter coma. The Knights rallied to score 26 points in the second quarter. UL’s half court trap forced Mary Persons into turnovers. Travis Pittman scored 10 of his 14 points in the second quarter, as the Knights led 39-36 at halftime.
Upson-Lee would eventually turn up the pressure on Mary Persons, taking a 15-point lead in the third quarter. Upson-Pennyman made 9 of 11 free throws taken in the game, as he led the Knights with 24 points. Upson-Lee eventually wore down the Dawgs and cruised to a 76-66 victory.
Pennyman paced UL with 24 points, while freshman David Marshall added 16 points and nine rebounds. Travis Pittman finished with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 boards. Toby Fuentes netted eight points, Jalen Searcy finished with six points, Caleb Ward four points, Corey Moss three points, and O’Qualon Harris chipped in with one point in the victory.
The Knights will take on a tough North Clayton team tonight at the ULHS gymnasium. The Eagles downed the Knights 55-51 two weeks ago. Tip off for tonight’s game is slated for 7:30 p.m., as the two teams battle for position in the Region 4B standings.