The Upson-Lee Knights did not have the season they wished for in 2011-12, but they did beat Taylor County twice last year by scores of 57-56 and 59-57. The same Taylor County team which finished with a 26-3 record, losing to Turner County in the Elite 8 of the (A) State Playoffs last season.
The 2012-13 version of the Knights vs. Vikings did not disappoint, but the thriller ended in a Knights’ 68-64 loss Friday night. Upson-Lee freshman O’Qualon Harris had two looks from the perimeter with time running out, but both shots rimmed out.
“I thought we did some good things out there, especially in the second half,” said head coach Darrell Lockhart. “I liked the tempo we had out there, and we had a balanced scoring attack, forcing them to guard all of our players closely, rather than focusing on one player. We just have to do a better job of rebounding and making our free throws. I keep telling the guys free throws are going to make us or break us this year.”
The Knights made 15 of 26 free throws, which was actually an improvement from their dismal scrimmage game last week.
Both teams started the game with a frantic tempo, pushing the ball up the court, playing man-to-man defense. Upson-Lee’s Jalen Searcy was able to penetrate past his man on a regular basi., Searcy scored seven of his 12 points in the first quarter. However, the Knights struggled rebounding the ball, allowing the Vikings to have easy put back buckets. Taylor County led the Knights by a 20-18 score after the first quarter and 38-33 at the half.
In the second half, Taylor County came out firing on all cylinders, sparking an 8-0 run. Trailing 46-33, the Knights and some of their young talent began to take control of the game. Freshmen O’Qualon Harris and Kenderius Pennyman combined to score 12 points in the third quarter. Pennyman hit a big three-pointer to cut the Vikings’ lead to 46-40.
In the fourth quarter, the Knights turned up their defensive intensity. However, Upson-Lee went cold from the floor with neither team able to put the ball in the basket. Finally, with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter, Upson-Lee senior Travis Pittman scored on a drive to the basket, cutting the Vikings lead to 51-48. Pittman led the Knights with 15 points, while snatching eight rebounds.
With the Knights closing the gap on the Vikings, Taylor County called a time out to regroup. The packed out ULHS gymnasium rose to it’s feet in support of their team.
After the time out, the Vikings went on a 6-0 run of their own, knocking down a three-pointer, and scoring three points the old fashion way, making a lay-up and drawing a foul. At that point the Knights called a time out of their own, trailing 57-48.
With 3:21 left in the game, the Knights defense began to force turnovers on the Vikings ball handlers. The turnovers turned into points for the Knights, and after a Searcy floater fell in off the front of the rim, the Knights and Vikings were all tied up 61-61 with 1:12 left in the game.
The Vikings answered with two field goals of their own to take a four-point lead, but Upson-Lee’s Caleb Ward drilled a three-pointer with 21.8 seconds to go, cutting the Vikings lead to 65-64. The Knights were forced to foul, and the Vikings knocked down two clutch free throws to lead 67-64.
With time running out, Harris had an open look at a three-pointer, but his shot fell off the front of the rim. Pittman snatched the rebound and quickly passed the ball back out to Harris, but this time his shot was a little long, and the Vikings grabbed the rebound, sealing their 68-64 victory after making one additional free throw.
Travis Pittman paced the Knights with 15 points, while O’Qualon Harris added 13 points. K.D Pennyman and Jalen Searcy each reached double figures with 12 points. Caleb Ward added seven points, Toby Fuentes and Trey Bussey each scored two points, while JaQualon Willis chipped in with one point in the loss.
The Knights will host the Stockbridge Tigers in their first Region 4 game of the season tonight. The Tigers are 1-0 after defeated Southwest Atlanta Christian (SWAC) by a 76-50 score. Tip off for tonight’s contest is slated for 7:30 p.m.