The Upson-Lee Knights knew they would have their hands full on Tuesday night, as they welcomed the No. 1 ranked team in the state in class AAAA, Eagle’s Landing. The Golden Eagles, who finished 28-4 last season, had some Div. I commits on the floor Tuesday night and entered the contest coming off two losses from a tournament in Memphis. The Golden Eagles played in the Atlanta vs. Memphis Classic last week, a tournament which pits the top teams from Atlanta area against the top teams from Memphis area.
The game at Upson-Lee Tuesday night was played in front of a noticeably bigger crowd than normal for a Tuesday night game. That crowd saw the Golden Eagles jump out to an early 15-0 lead in the first quarter, although the Knights would outscore the top team in the state the rest of the first half. Unfortunately the beginning and the end of the game sealed the Knights’ fate in the 70-53 defeat.
“I thought we were a little intimidated from their ranking and their size,” said Knights head coach Darrell Lockhart. “After we realized we could play with them, the guys began to settle down and play the way I knew we could. The 15-0 run at the beginning of the game, and the last four minutes of the game is where we lost it. Other than those few minutes, I thought we really battled them and played pretty well. If we can play with that type of intensity for a full four quarters, we can play with any team.”
The Golden Eagles, whose starting lineup boasted four players over 6’5”, jumped out to an early lead. On the first play of the game, senior Chris Davenport (6’8”) had a highlight reel dunk for the first points of the contest. “I think the guys let the dunk get in their heads a little bit,” said Lockhart. “They also knocked down some three pointers really early, and before you could blink we were down 15-0. I think we got a little shell shocked, and didn’t play our game.”
At the 3:21 mark of the first quarter, Travis Pittman got the Knights on the board with a bucket in the paint. Pittman would go on to lead the Knights with 11 points. From that point on until halftime, the Knights outscored the Golden Eagles 23-14, trailing 29-25 at halftime.
The Knights were able to use their speed advantage against the Golden Eagles, as Toby Fuentes, Jalen Searcy, and Kenderious Pennyman scored points on the Knights’ fast break. Upson-Lee began to take the fight to the state’s top ranked team, getting them back in the ball game.
As the third quarter began, the Knights stepped up their intensity on defense, playing an extended zone-trap. The Knights were able to force some turnovers by the Golden Eagles, and after freshman David Marshall made two free throws, the Knights and the No. 1 ranked team in the state were tied 29-29.
That’s when the Golden Eagles went on a 7-0 run of their own, as Eagles Landing shooting guard Eric Wortham drilled two three pointers in a matter of seconds. Wortham finished with (4) three pointers in the contest, and the Golden Eagles made (7) three pointers total in the game.
The Knights trailed 48-37 at the end of the third quarter, and that’s as close as the game would get. The Golden Eagles took advantage of their deep bench, subbing players in and out throughout the fourth quarter. The 15-0 run to start the game, and the Eagles’ size advantage proved to be too much for the Knights. The Golden Eagles were able to get offensive rebounds for easy put back buckets in the fourth quarter, and they made a pointless three point bucket at the buzzer, sealing their 70-53 victory.
Travis Pittman led the Knights with 11 points and seven rebounds. Jalen Searcy, Kenderious Pennyman, and David Marshall each finished the game with eight points. Caleb Ward finished the game with seven points. Toby Fuentes scored six points, dished out seven assists, and snatched four steals, while O’Qualon Harrris chipped in with five points in the defeat.
The Knights will now hit the road, as they take on another Region 4 opponent tonight. Upson-Lee will play Dutchtown, who is coming off a five-point victory over Griffin. Tip off for tonight’s game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. The Knights will also play at home on Saturday night, when they host the Bulldogs from Mary Persons.
On a side note, the Knights and Lady Knights will participate in the Lamar County Christmas Classic once again this season. The four teams in the tournament are Upson-Lee, Lamar County, Griffin, and Pike County. The Knights first game in the tournament will be on Friday, Dec. 21. Upson-Lee will face Lamar County at 8:30 p.m.