Back on December 13 at the ULHS gymnasium, the Upson-Lee Knights gave the Dutchtown Bulldogs their first win of the season. On that night, Upson-Lee blew a 15-point second half lead, shooting under 40 percent from the free throw line and losing by a 62-61 score. After being rescheduled three times due to the recent weather, the Knights finally played their first game of the Region 4 Tournament. Their opponent, the Dutchtown Bulldogs.
On Saturday afternoon at Jonesboro High School the Knights squared off with the Bulldogs once again, with the Bulldogs carrying a No. 4 seed from the “A” side of Region 4 and the Knights coming into the contest with a No. 5 seed from the “B” side of the region. The Knights came out as the aggressor in the game, knowing whichever team suffered a loss would have their season come to an end. Upson-Lee ran their fast break offense to near perfection, and the fast-paced style of play was something the Bulldogs were not prepared for. After leading 45-25 at halftime, the Knights were able to go into cruise control on the way to an 80-62 victory.
“I thought over all the first half of that game may have been the best we’ve played all year,” said Knights head coach Darrell Lockhart. “We really attacked the rim and I thought we played very well on defense. We played as a team and we picked each other up when mistakes were made. We did a lot of things that may not show up in the stat sheet, but it’s things like hustling after a loose ball and getting back on defense which led to our victory. We also shot better from the free throw line,” said Lockhart with a smile. “Our free throw shooting has cost us in more games than I can even count.”
Lockhart may be correct when mentioning the Knights’ horrid free throw shooting for the first two months of the season. Over the last three weeks, the Knights have shot free throws much better. During their free throw struggles, the Knights dropped many games which could have been won, and dropped other games which some would say could have easily been won.
Looking at the Knights record (10-15, 6-10), Upson-Lee has lost 10 games total by seven points or less, with many of those losses coming in games which the Knights shot below 50 percent from the free throw line. If UL had shot free throws all year like they have the past few weeks, the Knights could have a 15-10 record or even better, rather than a 10-15 record and may be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the tournament rather than a No. 5 seed. However, as the old saying goes, “you made your bed and now you have to lay in it,” and the Knights first step to “making up their bed” so to speak came on Saturday.
In the first quarter of the game Upson-Lee played a tough full court man-to-man defense, something that enabled them to keep the pace of the game faster than the Bulldogs would have preferred. The Bulldogs stayed back in a zone, and the Knights made them pay from the perimeter. O’qualon Harris and Malik Crafter each drilled three-pointers early in the game, forcing Dutchtown into a man-to-man defense in the second quarter, as Upson-Lee led 23-17 after the first quarter of play.
In the second quarter the Dawgs’ decision to switch to a different defense did not pay off, to say the least. The Knights were able to spread the court in a half-court offense and penetrate to the basket past the Dutchtown defenders. When UL missed their shots, Upson-Lee was able to grab a lot of offensive rebounds. In the man-to-man defense, Dutchtown had problems controlling the Knights on the glass, and it was sophomore David Marshall and junior Dinasis Walker who took advantage. Marshall finished with 12 rebounds, while Walker finished with 11 rebounds. Leading 42-25 with time running out in the first half, Upson-Lee’s O’qualon Harris heaved a shot from half court, banking off the back board and going in, giving Upson-Lee a 45-25 lead.
In the third quarter of play, the Knights continued to frustrate the Bulldogs. Dutchtown came out in a 1-2-1-1 full court press, which did nothing to stop Upson-Lee’s fast paced style of play. The Knights outscored Dutchtown 19-13 in the third quarter, giving UL a 26 point lead after three quarters of action.
In the fourth quarter, the Knights were able to empty their bench to give some starters a rest, and give others some playing time in a region tournament setting. The Knights cruised to an 80-62 victory, ending Dutchtown’s season.
O’qualon Harris led the Knights with 17 points, while Malik Crafter netted 15 points, tallied five boards, and dished out seven assists. Dinasis Walker recorded a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Antonie Miller registered 11 points and seven rebounds. David Marshall added nine points to his 12 rebounds, while Kenderius Pennyman scored five points and had four assists. Jarvis Atwater finished with five points, Antonio Grantling scored three points, while Tigger Walker chipped in with two points in the loss. The Knights made 23 of 34 free throws, for a 68 percent clip.
The Knights now have to turn their attention to the No. 1 seed from the “B” side of the region, the Riverdale Raiders (20-5, 11-4). The winner of the game will earn a berth to the State Playoffs, with the loser’s season coming to an end. The Knights and the Raiders faced off at Griffin High School on Monday night, but the results of the game were not available by press time. We will have a full game recap of the contest in Friday’s edition of The Times, but for those who wish for an update sooner, check out The Thomaston Times Facebook page or follow Wes McCard on Twitter @WesMc21 for an update on the game.
Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Tritter @WesMc21.